The Saturday-Sunday weekend issue of the Wall Street Journal is my favorite newspaper. I don't always agree with the political bent, but respect the news-gathering quality and writing. In the recent Weekend Edition of the Journal (March 9-10), Gerald Baker, an Editor at Large, wrote a piece with the heading "Will the Issue of Character Be Trump's Undoing?" Mr. Baker, certainly no down-the-line Liberal, asks the question "Should presidential character count?" Specifically, does it matter if the president did bad things, as long as he's not a criminal?
In the context of recent history, clearly Bill Clinton did bad things. He was impeached in the House for a variety of sleazy actions, was acquitted in the Senate, and went on to be reelected. Republicans who denounced Mr. Clinton overlook the facts (I use "facts" since it's clear that these occurred) that Mr. Trump has paid hush money, lots of it, to multiple women with whom he had consensual sexual affairs while married. These, along with at least one national publication that admits paying large sums of money to "catch and kill" sordid stories of Mr. Trumps's transgressions shortly before the 2012 elections, paint a picture of sleaze. Unlike Mr. Clinton, who tried to evade his actions with "I didn't have sex with this woman," when oral sex was involved at a minimum, Mr. Trump simply denies everything even though there are statements made under oath along with cancelled checks and various other forms of evidence that would convict him in any court. It would be interesting to have him testify under oath since a proven lie could definitely result in an impeachable offense. He's unlikely ever to make that mistake unless there is only a "voluntary" resignation where he can claim the charges are bogus but he's leaving anyway. The large number of simple untruths that Trump has told, starting on his Inauguration Day when he claimed his crowd was the largest ever, when obvious photographs showed a third of Obama's crowd, was an early signal of what we were going to see.
On this past weekend, Trump had what most observers characterize as his "craziest day ever" on Twitter. He posted fifty tweets altogether (thirty new ones and twenty retweets), attacking former Arizona Senator John McCain, urging Fox News to reinstate host Jeanine Pirro after she was suspended for questioning the patriotism of the Muslim Democratic Representative from Minnesota, urging Fox News Channel to stand up for Tucker Carlson, who has seen some advertisers pull out of his show following release of a series of caustic and offensive remarks he has made on a radio show in the past decade, accusing General Motors of having "let the country down" based on their decision to relocate four US factories, attacking Fox New Channel anchor Shep Smith and two other weekend anchors saying that they had "been trained by CNN," alleging that Democrats tried to steal a presidential election and stating that this was "the biggest scandal in history of our country," as well as retweeting Jack Posobiec, who is a leading proponent of the crazy conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring in a NYC pizza parlor.
Folks, I am not making this up!
On a much more troubling matter, with apparent strengthening of "White Nationalism" related violence (Pittsburgh Synagogue, New Zealand Mosque, Charlottesville march), the President sounds hollow at best, and two-faced at worst. Asked whether he say a worrying rise in white supremacy movements around the world, Trump said he did not, blaming a small number or people "with very, very, serious problems." When reminded that the New Zealand mass-murderer had mentioned the President by name and saw him as a symbol of renewed white identity, Mr. Trump simply said he had not seen it.
For President Trump, there are several economic and policy factors working in his favor at this time. The economy is strong, jobs are plentiful, and the nation is not at war .... at least officially. The historic tax cut and certain deregulations have put a huge amount of stimulative money into the system. His judicial appointments, including two of the "Supremes," have been successful, along with a large number on other Federal benches. On the other hand, the inexorable increase in record national deficits reflects the tax-cut policies, although this is a longer term problem. His hard-ball game against our major trading partners has not resulted in any "total calamities" yet, even though Chinese tariffs in the double digits have caused major pain to several agriculture areas, which in an ironic twist, were among the important sections of the country that allowed him to squeak through the Midwest and run the Electoral College table. Trump has a general approval rating that ranges from the high thirties to the high forties, and has a rock-solid base of supporters. Even so, most Americans are tired of the daily drip-drip-drip ... it's now a solid stream ... of his catty daily tweets, name calling, and general tawdriness of charges and revelations about our 45th President. As The Journal's Mr. Baker writes, there's a "weariness with the daily verbal journeys through the sewers ... the vanity, the incidental connection with truthfulness ..."
Comparisons are starting to be made with Nero, the Roman Emperor, in the sense that Nero was both a mad autocrat and brilliant populist. Nero was "titillatingly decadent." Yet he was a builder of opulent and elegant structures and had flair. He ruled over the height of the Roman empire. Is our 45th President overseeing the apogee of the American era? Is the fascination and loyalty of a third of US voters, the rock-ribbed girder of Trump's base, in any way similar to the analogy of Nero? Most Trump supporters seem to like that he is rich, that he "sticks it to the man," whoever the "man" is.
Briefly, the late Sandra Day O'Connor had a wonderful assessment on this matter. She would say that what matters in a democracy isn't just the letter of the law, but the spirit of civility - the comity and forbearance essential to getting anything accomplished.
It's clear that Mr. Trump is a brilliant judge of how to frame things. He's a fancy dresser, with one of the grandest "homes" in the country in Palm Beach, the former mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post, of the cereal fortune. He has a lovely, international, classy and couture-clad wife, adult children who are "beautiful" and loyal, and has been a top-rated reality TV show host. He uses his "Trump brand" to sell a wide range of items, but primarily sells himself. So far his tax returns have not been made public. I honestly believe that history will conclude, and do so conclusively, that the single best thing he ever did was to run for President, but also the single worst thing he ever did was to win. He now will face unending analysis and his background, until now protected by clever attorneys and CPAs, will yield first to investigations, and eventually to the clarifying lens of historians and history. His problems are only beginning to unfold. Mark my words.
Enjoy life, it's the only one we will get.
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