He has tantrums. He rips up paper. He disregards facts. He believes crazy conspiracies. He’s erratic and ill-informed. Those around him walk on eggshells, trying to prevent him from doing the geopolitical equivalent of sticking his finger in an electrical socket.
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and political appointee, described Trump’s style: “President Trump changes his mind on what he wants on a daily basis. I have no idea what he wanted on the day I called him.” Sondland also spoke about Trump’s “completely inconsistent” behavior: “The funny part is that he was railing about the problems with Ukraine in our meeting, but I think shortly after that he sent essentially an unconditional invitation to President Zelensky to come visit him.”
Sondland testified about Trump’s unreasonableness (“He sort of went on and on and on about how Ukraine is a disaster and they’re bad people”), limited attention (“He didn’t even want to deal with it anymore, and he basically waved and said, ‘Go talk to Rudy’”) and poor judgment (“Taking directions from the president, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani … Please know that I would have not recommended that”). Likewise, George Kent, the deputy secretary of state overseeing Ukraine, painted a picture of aides trying to soothe a childlike Trump. “Initially the president did not want to sign a congratulatory letter, and he actually ripped up the letter that had been written for him,” Kent testified. “But by the end of the meeting he’d been convinced.”
Republicans’ questions suggest they, too, accept that the president is not entirely rational; they urged witnesses to respond as “if you are in President Trump’s world,” whether Trump’s views are “reasonable or not” and “fair or not.”
For example: “If the president, for whatever reason, true or untrue, develops a feeling that he’s got an ambassador that isn’t loyal to him, he’s going to bring them home, correct?”
And: “If you try to get inside the president’s head, I mean, he may have been searching for the name ‘Burisma’ but couldn’t grasp it so he spits out ‘Biden’?”
The witness, Kurt Volker, Trump’s envoy for Ukraine negotiations, said Trump “would not know or even know how to pronounce or be familiar with the name of a company like that.”
Of course, you don’t need to read depositions to know this about Trump; you only need look at his recent public behavior. One moment he’s at a rally shouting “we are kicking their ass,” and the next he’s retweeting a message calling him a “bad motherf-----.” One moment he’s declaring that “this impeachment nonsense … is driving the Stock Market, and your 401K’s, down.” The next he’s announcing: “Stock Markets (all three) hit another ALL TIME & HISTORIC HIGH yesterday!” One moment he’s proposing a “fireside chat” reading of the infamous rough transcript. The next he’s threatening a government shutdown.
An anonymous administration official writes in a new book that Trump is “like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport.” Even loyalist Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) posits a dubious new defense of Trump’s Ukraine actions: “It was incoherent …They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”
The depositions make clear Trump appointees and civil servants feel similarly. They describe “great confusion,” a “lack of clarity,” "the absence of “any coherent explanation” and a “vacuum.” The acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, “rarely responded to emails and almost never returned phone calls.”
They describe a president who is “confounding” and paranoid (he “kept repeating it … ’they tried to take me down, they tried to take me down’”) and volatile (“the president was really in a bad mood,” “it was almost like he hung up on me”). They testified about him being swayed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, and about how they coached the Ukrainians on dealing with Trump. They spoke of keeping “dissonant information” from Trump. They talked of fearing tweets from Trump and his family attacking them. As a consequence, they reported feeling “discouraged,” "incredibly frustrated” and “pissed.”
Toddlers have a way of doing that to their caregivers.