Okay, America, are we great again yet? Are we respected throughout the world? Are the Chinese quaking in their boots as we hike tariffs? Has Saudi Arabia come clean about murdering a Post columnist after covering up the atrocity so clumsily that you could almost see blood dripping from the hands of the crown prince? If America is great again, how come we grovel before a nation that needs us more than we need it? Tweet me an answer, Mr. President. But keep it short.
Has America reversed global warming by simply denying it? Are factory jobs up? How about iron and steel? The same. And coal mining — “beautiful, clean coal” in the hallucinatory words of the president? Not what it once was.
Is NATO stronger? Does America enjoy moral leadership? Would our allies rush to our aid, as they did after Sept. 11, 2001? President George W. Bush’s grand “coalition of the willing” might be impossible to re-assemble. President Trump has managed to unite Western Europe in one respect. All its leaders loathe him.
The president, like Gulliver, is being tied down by numerous investigations. The explanation is apparent even to Republicans. Trump is an immoral man, a chiseler and a liar and a deadbeat and a damned fool. His eccentric collection of aides are tiptoeing off the stage one by one, some to jail, some to ignominy, none to glory. And then, when they are gone, comes verbal abuse, sometimes in retaliation for a tardy admission of truth. Rex Tillerson said Trump does not read up to grade. For that, he got spitballed. “Dumb as a rock,” the president opined.
The mess is getting messier. Trump lies himself into one corner after another. Is there anyone in all of America who does not believe that Trump paid off two women for their silence? Whether these alleged payments were campaign finance violations or not is almost beside the point. We know the story. Trump is dirty and uses cash as a disinfectant. He thinks it can make any manner of sin go away. Maybe not this time, Mr. President. As with your former Atlantic City casino, you overpaid.
But blaming Donald Trump for behaving like Donald Trump is like blaming a scorpion for acting like a scorpion. The lie is his sting. He cannot help himself. He thinks only of himself because narcissism, like a sixth toe, is a condition of birth. There is no changing it. In the Trump White House, the president’s intense love of himself is about the only consistent policy.
But what about you, Chris Christie? I am talking of course of the former New Jersey governor who jumped from presidential candidate to Trump acolyte. Are you proud of what you did? Didn’t you see any of this coming? Didn’t you talk to any bankers or real estate people from just across the Hudson River? They wouldn’t do business with Trump. They don’t trust him. You knew all this, but wanted a Cabinet position anyway. What is the word for what you’ve done? It’s something like moral treason.
And you, Mike Pence. You won’t eat alone with any woman other than your wife, but you’d sup at Trump’s table, the womanizer instead of the woman. Were you the only adult in Washington who had not heard the stories about him? What were you willing to do to advance your career? Is there a principle you hold dear?
I get it. Christie, Pence and other Republican politicians — as well as financial figures such as Carl Icahn — had other considerations. Some wanted a conservative, anti-abortion judiciary; still others wanted lower taxes and fewer regulations. Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire head of the Blackstone Group, even said in 2016 that he preferred Trump because America needed a “cohesive, healing presidency.”
Trump, these savants thought, would grant all their wishes, and so they tossed the dice on a maniac, comforting us (or themselves) with the hope that once in office Trump’s inner Madison would emerge. Don’t worry, they said, he ran a business and, anyway, the solemnity of the Oval Office would sober him up. Didn’t Augustine of Hippo go from a libertine to a saint of the Catholic Church?
John F. Kelly’s leaving. Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster are gone. Michael Flynn sings, and Paul Manafort lies. The stock market is tanking for the usual reasons, but this one as well: Investors know that no one’s home at the White House. Trump’s a human pinball, ricocheting off events and emitting tweets like a rundown smoke alarm. We’re not great again. We’re drifting toward disaster.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.