So President Trump is not guilty of criminally conspiring with Russia to win the 2016 election. But he is guilty of being a lousy president.
He made that clear after the completion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Instead of following Winston Churchill’s advice (“In victory: magnanimity”), Trump was venomous and vengeful. He repeated his Stalinist assertion that the media are the “Enemy of the People” and vowed to exact revenge against the assorted traitors and evil-doers who had probed his connections with Russia. Trump is reminding us that he lacks even an iota of the dignity or decorum that we used to take for granted in the Oval Office.
That same message was reinforced by Trump’s never-ending vendetta against the late senator John McCain. It now seems as though it were a lifetime ago, but Trump spent most of last week attacking a dead man. “He was horrible,” Trump said. “I’m not a fan of John McCain.” And also: “I’ve never liked him much.”
Trump complained that McCain had voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act and had sent the Steele dossier alleging that Trump was compromised by the Russians “to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the election.” In fact, McCain quietly provided the dossier to the FBI after the election — as any patriot would have done. Drawing on inexhaustible wellsprings of self-pity, Trump complained that he was never thanked for providing McCain “the kind of funeral that he wanted” — even though all Trump did was provide a military plane to carry McCain’s body from Arizona to Washington. We all know the real reason the draft-dodger president holds a grudge against the war hero senator: Trump knows he will never receive the kind of respect and adulation from the establishment that McCain did — and that he secretly craves.
Trump stands out among our presidents not just for being so petty, bitter and mean-spirited but also for being so incompetent. He came to office promising to eliminate the budget deficit and the trade deficit. Both are now bigger than ever. The federal budget deficit in February — $234 billion — was the largest on record. The trade deficit in 2018 set its own record: $891.3 billion.
Trump also promised to boost economic growth as high as 6 percent per year. In 2018, despite a massive tax cut, the economy grew at only 2.9 percent — the same level it reached under President Barack Obama in 2015. Trump is wrongly blaming this strong but not spectacular growth on his own appointee to chair the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell.
Last week, Trump struck back against Powell by saying he’ll nominate Stephen Moore, a supply-side polemicist and acerbic critic of the Fed, to join its board. Moore was not selected for his monetary expertise. As he admitted, “I’m going to be on a steep learning curve myself about how the Fed operates.” He was chosen because he has become an ardent proponent of lower interest rates after having warned under Obama, when the economy was in much greater need of stimulus, that lower rates would produce hyperinflation. Moore’s policy recommendations appear to be tailored to whatever the Republican Party requires at the moment. Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University professor who was chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, recommended against his confirmation because “he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job.”
Of course, the president who nominated Moore lacks the necessary gravitas for his even more important job. Trump demonstrated that again last Friday when he posted a baffling tweet: “It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!” This was an extraordinary and puzzling rebuke of Trump’s own advisers. In fact, no sanctions had been announced that day.
At first, it appeared that Trump was rescinding sanctions that had been announced the previous day. But the White House claimed he was actually canceling unspecified future sanctions — an explanation that was apparently false — because he “likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.” So Trump hates an American war hero but loves the North Korean dictator. That’s how twisted his worldview is.
The same day Trump canceled further sanctions on North Korea, which is producing nuclear weapons as fast as it can, he slapped new sanctions on Iran, which has stopped its own nuclear program. David Sanger of the New York Times summed up the disconnect: “If you are building nuclear weapons and the President likes you, no sanctions necessary. If you want to build nuclear weapons but there is no evidence you are currently doing so, and [the] President dislikes you, sanctions are appropriate.”
Whatever Mueller found (and we still know very little) will not change the fact that Trump simply lacks the intellect and integrity — the gravitas — for the most important job in the world.