As a preliminary matter, I’m delighted to be back from vacation and back in the United States. Easily forgotten during the coverage of the incompetent and intellectually corrupted officials who populate this administration are the honorable men and women in the civil service here and abroad carrying out administrative and security roles. They are invariably polite, efficient and professional — and for all the ribbing the Transportation Security Administration takes, its performance far exceeds that of its foreign counterparts.
As for the Trump administration, neither temporal nor geographic distance improves one’s perception of the president’s multitudinous and outrageous misdeeds. To the contrary, on the ground in Western Europe, ordinary individuals, media and political leaders reacted with amazement and horror at the series of events that have occurred over a fortnight:
- The indictment of 12 Russians involved in hacking Democrats.
- President Trump’s boorish behavior at another meeting with allies (with particular venom directed toward German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May).
- Trump’s stunning agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of Russian interference in our election followed by a transparent lie to run from his betrayal.
- Trump’s denial that Russian interference remains an ongoing threat (followed by another transparent lie to conceal this absurdity).
- The utter lack of knowledge as to what, if anything, Trump promised Putin (given Republicans’ objections to calling translators to testify).
- A new invitation from Trump for Putin to visit Washington. (Goodness knows what other acts of betrayal will occur.)
- The White House’s seeming willingness to hand over former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul for Russian authorities to question, followed by a walk-back when, for once, Senate Republicans unanimously declared with their Democratic colleagues that this would never take place.
Rather than anger or anti-Americanism, the pervasive sentiment among our closest allies is one of sympathy for plight, anxiety and sadness. In Western Europe, Trump is regarded as a figure the allies must jointly weather and manage.
The country is now at an inflection point as a result of four factors.
First, the issue is no longer “merely” whether Trump colluded with the Russians and committed obstruction of justice, but whether he is a clear-and-present danger to the United States. The conclusion should be obvious: Giving aid and comfort to our biggest geopolitical foe and engaging in private sessions that may compromise American interests even further are together now our greatest security threat. Impeachment is a political question with grave implications for our political system. But when the president’s conduct poses a threat to the nation, removal of the president who poses the threat may be essential.
Second, there is no excuse for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton to continue service in the administration. They have no idea what the president is offering in private sessions, and no visible ability to direct him away from obsequiousness to Putin. They are plainly enabling a president to betray American interests. Their obligation is to quit and share all they know with the American people.
Third, the Republican Party and its many apologists can no longer say “but judges” or “but tax cuts.” Absolutely nothing justifies a president’s betrayal of American interests and abject violation of his oath. Rather, it is their insistence that it is “all worth it” — to support and stand by Trump — because of the Supreme Court, taxes or deregulation that has brought us to the point where the president is a serial violator of human rights domestically (unable to repair in a timely fashion the wretched decision to separate children from migrant parents), and an international ally of American enemies. It is not an exaggeration to say a party that continues support for Trump is anti-American.
Fourth, Trump’s legal problems are worsening by the day, most recently as a result of Michael Cohen’s recorded conversation with Trump purportedly discussing a payoff to another sexual partner of Trump, Karen McDougal, during the waning days of the 2016 election. The Post reports:
Trump and Cohen discussed the possible payment after AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, bought the rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000 in August 2016, then sat on it. . . . [The] recording shows that Trump — whose spokeswoman denied he had any knowledge of the AMI deal with McDougal when it became public days before the election — in fact knew of her claims and efforts to keep her quiet at least two months earlier.
If true, and if National Enquirer acted at the behest of Trump, this appears to be another instance in which a campaign-related expense (the hush money to McDougal) went unreported.
What now? It is not too soon for men and women of good character to demand Trump resign — not because he will do so, but because public servants must now focus on Trump’s danger to the country and how we can limit and eliminate it. For Congress, it is essential to shore up the country’s defenses against Trump — asserting its prerogatives to declare war (and against Trump’s unilateral war-making), protecting the special counsel and deputy attorney general and, yes, refraining from confirming any new judges or executive officers until the cloud over the presidency is removed. Finally, it is more essential than ever that the GOP lose heavily in November’s midterms. Only with a complete repudiation of Trump and Republican rule can necessary corrective action begin in earnest.