There’s a big difference between loyalty and fealty:

Loyalty is the most perfect form of mutual respect. It is a bond that goes two ways, and that is why it endures.

Fealty, on the other hand, must be endured. It is based on power, and ends the moment the one who commands it no longer has a grip on the one who is shackled by it.

My colleague Ashley Parker notes that while President Trump has a fixation on loyalty, he seems to have a singular inability to inspire it. A management style based on bullying never does.

The forthcoming book by his onetime national security adviser John Bolton is only the latest example of that. Parker reports:

The short gestation period — less than five months — between Bolton’s September exit from the administration to his damning book manuscript underscores an uncomfortable truth for Trump: For a president who demands absolute loyalty, he inspires strikingly little of the same, with former aides, advisers and associates often turning on him with thrumming regularity.
They are, en masse, all the president’s disloyal men and women — an unofficial club that includes everyone from Rex Tillerson, Trump’s former secretary of state, to Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House senior adviser, to Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer now serving three years in federal prison for crimes committed while working for Trump.

From the dawn of his presidency, Trump’s twisted concept of loyalty has been at the heart of his most corrupt actions.

Just a week after Trump took the oath of office, he had a now-infamous dinner with James B. Comey, where, according to Comey’s account, the new president asked the then-FBI director for a pledge of loyalty. Comey was taken aback; the head of the FBI is given a 10-year tenure specifically to assure that he can operate with independence from presidents who are elected on four-year cycles. Trump’s subsequent decision to fire Comey helped set into motion the 674-day investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose report made a convincing case that Trump had obstructed justice.

President Trump's impeachment defense could create a dangerous precedent, says constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. (The Washington Post)

When Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general at the time, properly recused himself from overseeing the Mueller probe, the president again exploded in outrage. “The only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter,” Trump later said. But of course, what he really meant was that Sessions got the job because Trump believed he would carry out the president’s wishes without regard for the imperative of maintaining his own credibility — or that of the Justice Department.

So there has been no small amount of irony in seeing Sessions, of all people, now trash Bolton. After being dismissed by Trump, the former attorney general is now trying to win back his old Alabama Senate seat. Sessions attacked Bolton on Wednesday in an epic series of tweets. One of them, no surprise, embraced Trump’s concept of loyalty:

Teamwork? Trump has never seen his administration as anything but an extension of his own will and an instrument for carrying out his impulses. The government, in his view, is just another version of his family business. That’s why he saw nothing wrong in using taxpayer funds to pressure a foreign country to help him win an election.

His personal lawyer Alan Dershowitz carried that concept to its absurdist end on Wednesday when he argued the following during Trump’s impeachment trial: “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly, you’re right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something, which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."

In other words, nothing Trump does is impeachable.

Given the fealty Trump demands from Republicans in the Senate, that might turn out to be true. His acquittal still appears to be a sure bet.

But the evidence of his unfitness to carry out the public trust will continue to emerge nonetheless. Bolton is not likely to be the last of those who step forward from the recesses of this White House to bear witness.

Trump is learning the truth of an old saying about loyalty: Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

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