When history holds its trial to account for the Donald Trump presidency, Trump himself will be acquitted on grounds of madness. History will look at his behavior, his erratic and childish lying and his flamboyant ignorance of history itself and pronounce the man, like George III, a cuckoo for whom restraint, but not punishment, was necessary. Such will not be the case for Mike Pence, the toady vice president and the personification of much that has gone wrong in Washington.
On any given day, Pence will do his customary spot-on imitation of a bobblehead. Standing near Trump in the Oval Office, he will nod his head robotically as the president says one asinine thing after another and then, maybe along with others, he will be honored with a lie or a version of the truth so mangled by contradictions and fabrications that a day in the White House is like a week on LSD.
I pick on Pence because he is the most prominent and highest-ranked of President Trump’s lackeys. Like with all of them, Pence’s touching naivete and trust are routinely abused. He vouches for things that are not true — no talk of sanctions between Mike Flynn and the Russians, for instance, or more recently the reason James B. Comey was fired as FBI director. In both instances, the president either lied to him or failed to tell him the truth. The result was the same: The vice president appeared clueless.
I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Pence. He was among a perfidious group of political opportunists who pushed Trump’s candidacy while having to know that he was intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit for the presidency. They stuck with him as he mocked the disabled, belittled women, insulted Hispanics, libeled Mexicans and promiscuously promised the impossible and ridiculous — all that “Day One” nonsense like how the wall would be built and Mexico would pay for it.
I also have little sympathy for Sean Spicer, who plays the role of a bullied child. Trump routinely sends him out to lie to the American people, which he has done ever since his insistence that the inaugural crowd was bigger than the photos showed. He persists at his job even though Trump broadly hints that he will soon fire him. When Spicer is gone, he will be easily replaced. Washington is full of people who have no honor and no pride, either.
I think of Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and Wilbur Ross, at Commerce. What possessed them to back Trump for the GOP nomination? Didn’t they know the sort of man he is? Did they think a lower tax rate and fewer regulations are worth risking American democracy and our standing in the world? When they watched the bizarre way Trump sacked Comey, were they proud of their candidate?
The swamp that Trump kept mentioning in the campaign is not really one of tangled bureaucratic mangroves, but of moral indifference. Washington always had a touch of that — after all, its business is politics — but Trump and his people have collapsed the space between lies and truth. The president uses one and then the other — whatever works at the time.
The president cannot be trusted. He cannot be believed. He has denigrated the news media, not for its manifest imperfections but for its routine and obligatory search for the truth. He has turned on the judiciary for its fidelity to the law and, once, for the ethnic heritage of a judge. Trump corrupts just about everything he touches.
From most of the Republican Party comes not a whisper of rebuke. The congressional leadership is inert, cowed, scurrying to the White House for this or that ceremonial picture, like members of the erstwhile Politburo flanking Stalin atop Lenin’s mausoleum. They are appalled, but mute. They want to make the best of a bad situation, I know, and they fear the voters back home, but their complicity ought to be obvious even to them.
America is already worse off for Trump’s presidency. He was elected to make America great again, but his future is more like other nations’ sordid past. His own party has been sullenly complicit, showing how little esteem many politicians place in our most cherished values, not the least of them honesty and dignity. For all of them, an accounting is coming. When they are asked by history what they did during the Trump years, the worst of them will confess that they bobbled their heads like dumb dolls, while the best will merely say they kept their heads down.
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