It’s easy to get drawn into the drama of the Ukraine story, to be mesmerized by that country’s war against Russia and its brazen corruption, by characters like Hunter Biden and Paul Manafort and Lev and Igor and the ever-shifting cast of presidents, prosecutors, diplomats and criminals. We’re all learning more than we ever thought we’d know about Kyiv and its internal politics as the House of Representatives focuses its impeachment inquiry on a narrow set of allegations about President Trump’s misbehavior there.
But even as members of Congress zoom in tightly on Ukraine, it’s important that the rest of us not lose sight of the bigger picture. The Ukraine scandal is, at the end of the day, really just a microcosm, a single piece of a much broader story about this president. What he is accused of doing there is, to one degree or another, what he does everywhere, and it speaks to who he is — his character, his style, his values and his failure as president.
So let’s not ignore the wider context in which these allegations have emerged.
Trump, as this page has noted repeatedly, is a man for whom everything is transactional, and who is engaged in a constant struggle for short-term advantage. Blustering, bullying, threatening and arm-twisting are his tools. He doesn’t feel bound by the rules and niceties that have guided most of his predecessors, or by the constitutional and institutional limits that have constrained them. Norms, shared values, civil institutions and even the rule of law take a back seat, in his playbook, to the ceaseless struggle for the upper hand. He doesn’t seem to make much distinction between what’s good for America and what’s good for him personally. His disdain for the truth and his attraction to conspiracy theories are well known.
So, really, was anyone surprised at the allegation that Trump sought to extort from the Ukrainian president a “favor” that would help him in his reelection campaign? Was anyone shocked to be told that Trump would withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that Ukraine desperately needed to defend itself against Russia as leverage to ensure an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden? Of course you weren’t.
The fact is that Trump has shown us who he is over and over and over. Look at the findings of the Mueller report. How many times did Trump try to obstruct that investigation, either by firing FBI director James Comey or seeking to have special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ousted or trying to prevent the public disclosure of evidence or browbeating Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions into protecting him? These are not the actions of a man who plays by the established rules.
Remember his decision — rescinded in the wake of public outcry — to select his own Trump Doral golf resort as the site of the G-7 summit? That’s not the behavior of a man who puts the national interest above his own.
Read the Washington Post’s list of Trump’s falsehoods; last month it had grown to 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days in office. This is not a person who is putting the voters first.
Count the times he has come after California, subjecting our state to retaliation for our efforts to protect the environment and promote public safety in immigrant-heavy communities. This is a man who does not forgive his perceived enemies.
Consider that prosecutors in New York are scrutinizing the payments made by Trump’s personal lawyer just before the 2016 election to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had a tryst with Trump. Trump denies Daniels’ claim, but really, can we not all agree that this is not your ordinary president?
It makes sense for the House to focus narrowly in its impeachment inquiry on the specific allegations involving Ukraine to see if they can be proved, to debate their seriousness and to determine the appropriate sanction, if any. But let’s not kid ourselves: Trump’s alleged behavior there — including the secret Rudolph Giuliani back channel, the punishment of aides seen as not sufficiently loyal, the contempt for traditional diplomacy, the embrace of conspiracy theories, the attempted extortion itself — was entirely consistent with the man we know him to be.
For those of us who are watching the impeachment proceedings from home — and who are still likely to be called upon to vote for or against Trump in November 2020 — it would be myopic to consider the Ukraine allegations in a vacuum, as if this was an isolated example of his unfitness for office. Better to view these egregious charges in the context of all the egregious behavior that has come before, and to bear it all in mind as the saga unfolds.