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Opinion Personal irresponsibility: A concise history of Trump’s buck-passing

Key moments from President Trump's joint news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Andrew Harnik/The Washington Post)

“I inherited a mess!” President Trump complained at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Wednesday afternoon.

For the second day in a row, he blamed the Obama administration for Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack by Syria’s Assad regime and, for good measure, he blamed his predecessor for “one of the worst deals I have ever witnessed,” with Iran. “Whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s so many other things, whether it’s in our country, horrible trade deals — I inherited a mess,” he repeated.

No, Mr. President, we’re the ones who inherited a mess. Problems are piling up quickly, and Trump is pointing his finger everywhere but inward.

President George W. Bush years ago spoke of ushering in a new “era of personal responsibility.” Now, Trump has ushered in his own era of personal responsibility: Everything is the responsibility of other persons.

Much has been said of Trump's attempt to blame this week's attack in Syria on Obama, because Obama didn't enforce his 2012 "red line" against the Assad regime using chemical weapons. This blame shifting might have worked better if the attack hadn't happened on Trump's watch and if Trump himself hadn't strenuously and repeatedly opposed military action against Assad.

This was just the latest item on a long and growing list of Trump’s problems that he blames on others. Here is a partial compilation of his buck-passing since taking office:

He blamed the failure of the GOP health-care bill on Democrats, moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus, the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and, indirectly, Paul Ryan.

He blamed a Yemen counterterrorism raid that didn’t go according to plan both on his generals and on Obama.

He blamed airport protests of his travel ban on a Delta Air Lines systems outage and on “the tears of Senator Schumer.”

He preemptively blamed future terrorist attacks on the judge who blocked the travel ban and on the court system.

He blamed his own decision to remove national security adviser Michael Flynn on the intelligence community, the media and Democrats “trying to cover up” Hillary Clinton’s loss. He blamed his loss of the popular vote on voter fraud.

He blamed Democrats for the long-running investigation into his contacts with Russia. He blamed the intelligence community for leaking information about his contacts with Russia, comparing their actions to those seen in Russia or Nazi Germany. He blamed the media for inventing a narrative that he criticized the intelligence community.

The scene in Syria after a chemical attack kills dozens in April

A Syrian man in taken by civil defence workers following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. Warplanes carried out a suspected toxic gas attack that killed at least 35 people including several children, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the town of Khan Sheikhun, in Idlib province, had died from the effects of the gas, adding that dozens more suffered respiratory problems and other symptoms. / AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-BakourMOHAMED AL-BAKOUR/AFP/Getty Images (Mohamed Al-Bakour)

Trump blamed Obama and “his people” both for leaks and for widespread public protests against the administration. He blamed Obama for a nonexistent wiretap of Trump Tower. His aides blamed British intelligence for being involved. Trump then blamed Fox News for falsely implicating the British.

Trump aide Kellyanne Conway blamed Australia for leaking a transcript of their prime minister’s contentious phone call with Trump. Trump himself suggested that an unidentified somebody might be to blame for anti-Semitic vandalism and threats as part of a false-flag operation.

He blamed Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) for failing to schedule a meeting with him on the cost of prescription drugs. He blamed Senate Democrats for failing to confirm his nominees; the New York Times noted this week that nominees to 21 out of 28 Treasury Department posts haven’t been named.

Trump blamed his staff for giving him bad information when he falsely claimed that he had the largest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan. He blamed Nordstrom for treating Ivanka Trump “so unfairly” by dropping her fashion line. And, of course, he has blamed the media for everything: for playing down the crowd size at his inauguration, for portraying him (accurately) as sympathetic to WikiLeaks, for not telling the truth about Obamacare and for failing to report that the White House is running “so smoothly.”

All presidents, to some extent, try to blame predecessors. But never has the office been occupied by such a prodigious blame-shifter. On his way to the White House, Trump blamed Clinton for starting the “birther” movement, blamed Mexico for exporting criminals, blamed his failure to release tax returns on an audit, blamed China for problems with North Korea and blamed George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks. He has, at one time or another, blamed students for Trump University’s failures and said Kate Middleton had “only herself to blame” for surreptitious paparazzi photos of her topless.

The harsh response to Trump’s Syria statement this week suggests the buck-passing may be losing its charm. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN that Assad had been “encouraged” by Trump’s hands-off attitude toward the regime, calling it “another disgraceful chapter in American history.”

Tough words — but who could blame him?

Twitter: @Milbank

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