We’ve known — well, most of us have — since the 2016 presidential campaign began that Donald J. Trump lacked the personal characteristics to step in as a reliable leader of the free world. He’s impetuous, unthinking, and the sway his emotions hold over his mouth — or his Twitter fingers — belies a frightening immaturity for a man in his 70s.
And he keeps proving his unsuitability, most recently in a series of tweets late Wednesday in which he called for the speedy trial and execution of Sayfullo Saipov, accused in the New York City truck terror attack, and publicly mused about whether Saipov should be sent to Guantanamo Bay for military trial or remain in New York to face charges in the civilian courts. These aren’t the actions of a president; they are the inane chatter from the loudmouth at the end of the bar. Or the leader of a mob.
Trump has so tarnished the image of the United States abroad that his successor — whoever and whenever that might be — will have a challenge in restoring it. Europe has determined it can no longer rely on U.S. leadership (Note: Trump’s big in Russia, though). The president’s policies have removed the United States as a leader in the fight for global human rights. His playing games with the Iranian nuclear deal tells other regimes that the word of the United States can’t be trusted, and that a deal is not necessarily a deal. That’s dangerous.
For all his bluster, Trump has been abjectly ineffectual on domestic issues, failing (fortunately) in his prime goal of repealing Obamacare, failing to put forth a detailed infrastructure plan, and (fortunately, again) running into legal barriers with his atrocious executive orders on refugees and immigration enforcement. Trump’s response: Angry recriminations as he attacks congressional leaders, the courts, the media and citizens who criticize him.
Trump has the bully pulpit, and it’s a good fit in name — “Liddle Bob Corker,” “Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer,” “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson” — but not in deed. In fact, the public has learned to take his utterances with a shaker of salt. Even his apologists tell the world not to believe everything he says, or they try to argue that the president didn’t say what he just said.
At a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the president addressed the terror attack and said that “we need quick justice and we need strong justice – much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock.” A short time later, a reporter asked his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Why did the president call the U.S. justice system a joke and a laughingstock during his comments in the Cabinet?” Her answer: “That's not what he said.” Both statements were included in official White House transcripts. There is no truth with this White House.
So how does the nation deal with such unreliability from the president and his staff? Keep the spotlight on. Keep exposing the lies (Politifact has been keeping a running log, though it’s usually a few days behind) and the inconsistencies, and hope that truth will win out.
A democracy is only as strong as the faith of the people living under it. There’s an argument that Trump is undermining the institutions of our democracy, and there’s a lot of truth to that. But public skepticism of Congress, of the courts, of the presidency and of the media was high before Trump surfaced as a serious presidential candidate. He didn’t create the crisis so much as he exploited it, and in his victory has only worsened it.
Yet here we are with a president who lies at will, surrounded by enablers and apologists, and whose ignorance of the importance of the institutions he is attacking is astounding. Republican congressional leaders are so driven by political tribalism that they willingly go along with his insults, his challenges, his actions to demean and undercut them, all for the sake of a Holy Grail of — what, passing tax reform? Repealing Obamacare? They can’t even agree on their own agenda.
It’s one thing to disagree over the proper role of government in society, or the best way to provide healthcare, over the proper role for the United States on the world stage. It’s another thing entirely to abide the forces that seek to erode the foundations of American society itself.