In the corrosive and dangerous Trump presidency, the outrages fly so fast and the chaos mounts so thoroughly that it’s easy to pass off the entire unsettling phenomenon as one more made-for-TV-and-Twitter unreality show. New outrages drive the previous ones from our minds.
In recent days, two questions have dominated the discussion: Did he abuse his presidential power to boost his own political fortunes by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter? And is he obstructing justice by not cooperating with an impeachment inquiry?
These two questions have such enormous consequences for the nation that they may overshadow other alarming actions and traits. But we must not disregard the many other actions that have led to the hollowing out of our institutions, the cheapening of our spirit, the undermining of our values. Faced with the challenge to unseat, indeed to repudiate, Trump and his pernicious program for America, it’s essential not to forget the true damage he has done, continues to do and threatens to continue.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in another context: “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world”.
Trump has caused thousands of children to be interned in inhumane conditions, often for months, resulting in deaths, injuries and traumatic separations from families, and without access to even rudimentary schooling.
He has insulted and alienated the nation’s friends and allies, rendering the democratic world leaderless.
He flirted with repudiating NATO, a mutual defense commitment that has kept the planet free from worldwide war and destruction since the end of World War II, and has done so at a time when Russia has exhibited increasing aggression by occupying territory of neighboring Ukraine, interfering in elections in the United States and Europe, and sending assassins to Britain to poison a former Russian spy.
He has cozied up to right-wing nationalist dictators and autocrats at a moment when citizens of faltering democracies and the many peoples around the world aspiring to freedom most need an advocate on the international stage.
He has rejected the honorable American presidential tradition of seeking unity and instead has indulged in the politics of division, willfully alienating a large segment of the American electorate while among his own supporters drumming up hatred for and suspicion of others.
He has transformed the White House, which should promote policies based on reality, into the world capital of ignorance, dishonesty and misinformation by reciting verifiable falsehoods, from the size of his inauguration crowd to the direction of a hurricane to the (disproven) prevalence of election fraud.
He has been a particular antagonist to California, seeking to undermine this state’s forward-looking policies on auto emissions and environmental preservation, spreading falsehoods about the causes of its deadly wildfires, disparaging its rational and humane approach to immigration challenges, demeaning it for its struggles to deal with homelessness, and offering instead purported solutions that are unworkable, nonsensical or cruel.
He has denied the existential challenge of climate change and has promulgated policies that weaken the nation’s role in fighting it and scuttle the nation’s ability to take economic leadership in low-emission and carbon-capturing technology.
He has made the United States unreliable, erratic and foolish in international affairs by disparaging its diplomatic corps, engaging in frequent and jarring changes in foreign affairs and defense advisors and repudiating international allies and partners.
Trump has cheapened his office, instilled distrust in essential institutions of justice and democracy and replaced knowledge and professionalism with ignorance and amateurism.
He has made light of verified Russian assaults on U.S. elections, and at his notorious and shameful Helsinki news conference last year said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own nation’s intelligence agencies. He failed to elicit from the Russian leader an apology for past intervention or a promise not to intervene in other elections. In so doing, he invited further, more comprehensive attacks — and failed in the most basic duty of any U.S. president, which is to protect and defend the United States.
He has reduced or eliminated independent science advisory panels in a quest to remove fact from policymaking when it collides with damaging policies he wishes to pursue.
He has demeaned the presidency with foul, angry language hurled at his political adversaries, replacing fireside chats and presidential addresses with cable-TV-fueled, stream-of-consciousness tweets that attack his critics and stoke fear and outrage in his supporters.
He has undercut the nation’s moral standing by his shrugging response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi operatives.
He has sullied the office of the presidency by using it to express his personal contempt for people he does not like or who do not support him. The most egregious example may be his treatment of Sen. John McCain, a much-decorated former Vietnam War prisoner whose honor Trump questioned even after McCain’s passing.
He has appealed to the basest part of our culture, lifting into the mainstream chords and currents of racism that had long been left to fester in only our darkest corners. He commented on the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., with an equivocating speech that shrank from condemning violent racism and promoted false equivalency among demonstrators for and against white supremacy. He put in place a program to deny visas to visitors from majority Muslim nations. He disparaged Latinos; called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries”; and expressed his preference for immigrants from Norway. He promoted the notion that one’s American-ness is a function of descent and not birth or naturalization, by saying U.S.-born members of Congress should “go back” to the countries “from which they came.” He has issued statements that in the aggregate define an America united not by law, the Constitution, liberty or justice but by racial heritage.
More than any president in living memory, Trump has cheapened his office, instilled distrust in essential institutions of justice and democracy and replaced knowledge and professionalism with ignorance and amateurism. This partial list represents a mere slice of what makes Donald Trump unacceptable as president of the United States and what makes it of utmost importance that Americans of all political parties and positions reject and replace him.
Amid the impeachment inquiry, it’s important not to forget the full sweep of the damage Donald Trump has done, and continues to do.
With an incumbent as dangerous as Donald Trump, there’s too much riding on the outcome of the election to risk the post-primary infighting we saw in 2016.
Trump’s racism is a visible expression of bigger, older, deeper problems. He is a symptom rather than a root cause.