Trump’s lack of moral char­ac­ter hurt­ing coun­try

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Jonah Gold­berg

I’ve long ar­gued that Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency will end poorly be­cause he’s a per­son of bad char­ac­ter. I still think that’s true, though I very much doubt the im­peach­ment trial now un­der­way will re­sult in his re­moval. Re­gard­less of its out­come, his im­peach­ment il­lus­trates the dam­age bad char­ac­ter can do to the pres­i­dency, the cul­ture and the con­sti­tu­tional or­der.

In monar­chies and other sys­tems built around one-man (or one-woman) rule, the leader’s quirks, ob­ses­sions or in­ad­e­qua­cies cease to be any of those things, in­stead be­com­ing fash­ion­able at­tributes of great­ness. Bad jokes that emerge from his or her mouth be­come hi­lar­i­ous; rude­ness, strength. Mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tions be­come fash­ion­able lo­cu­tion. The story of Castil­ian Spaniards re­plac­ing the “s” sound with a “th” sound (“therveza” in­stead of cerveza) to ac­com­mo­date King Fer­di­nand’s lisp is myth, alas (or “alath”). But the moral of the story stands.

We’ve seen some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen to large swaths of the GOP. Be­cause Mr. Trump is un­teach­able about how the pres­i­dency and our con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem are sup­posed to work, politi­cians and me­dia fig­ures have dropped their long-held views on for­eign pol­icy, the na­tional debt, trade and even the need for ba­sic ci­vil­ity in or­der to get in sync with the pres­i­dent.

Ari­zona Sen. Martha McSally’s out­burst on Thurs­day is just the lat­est ex­am­ple. When asked by a CNN re­porter whether she’d sup­port al­low­ing wit­nesses at the im­peach­ment trial, this once sober-minded politi­cian called him a “lib­eral hack,” cre­at­ing a vi­ral so­cial me­dia mo­ment per­fectly suited for ca­ble news preen­ing and dig­i­tal fundrais­ing.

A new book by Washington Post re­porters, “A Very Sta­ble Ge­nius,” re­counts in alarm­ing de­tail how early mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gled to teach the pres­i­dent the rudi­ments of the job of Com­man­der In Chief, only to be re­buffed as “dopes and ba­bies” be­cause they didn’t see our in­ter­na­tional al­liances and mil­i­tary as­sets as an op­por­tu­nity to turn a profit. Two years later, he’s sur­rounded by a co­terie happy to let Mr. Trump be Mr. Trump.

The im­peach­ment drama it­self stems from the fact that no one can con­vince the pres­i­dent that the pres­i­dency is more than the whims, de­sires and am­bi­tions of the per­son oc­cu­py­ing the job.

Un­for­tu­nately, the re­sponses from Democrats, much of the me­dia and op­po­nents of the pres­i­dent, al­though emo­tion­ally un­der­stand­able, have of­ten com­pounded the dam­age.

My Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute col­league Yu­val Levin has writ­ten tellingly about the Trump era: “My rule of thumb … is that ev­ery scan­dal will pro­ceed in what­ever way is max­i­mally dam­ag­ing to public con­fi­dence in our core in­sti­tu­tions. Each twist and turn and rev­e­la­tion will give ev­ery­one on all sides of our pol­i­tics … just enough rea­son to be­lieve that their side is in the right, the other side knows it but is cor­rupt and the only way to get jus­tice is to rec­og­nize that there is no al­ter­na­tive to stretch­ing the norms and rules of our pol­i­tics a lit­tle in this par­tic­u­lar case.”

The Washington es­tab­lish­ment’s rush to get ahead of the ev­i­dence on Mr. Trump’s un­proven col­lu­sion with Rus­sia; the con­stant ex­hor­ta­tion that the only rea­sons some­one might agree with Trump poli­cies are racism, cultism or in­debt­ed­ness to Vladimir Putin; and the of­ten-voiced de­ter­mi­na­tion to im­peach Mr. Trump be­fore im­peach­able of­fenses had ma­te­ri­al­ized might sound like brave re­sis­tance to those al­ready con­verted. But to the un­con­verted, such rhetoric sounds like ev­i­dence of bad faith, war­rant­ing more bad faith in re­sponse.

Our prob­lems with par­ti­san­ship and po­lar­iza­tion pre­date Mr. Trump’s elec­tion, but his pres­i­dency has been gaso­line on a fire. Mr. Trump could have avoided im­peach­ment count­less times. Most ob­vi­ously, he could have not done what he ob­vi­ously did vis-a-vis Ukraine. Or he could have ad­mit­ted his er­ror, apol­o­gized and taken the steam out of the im­peach­ment train’s boil­ers.

In­stead, be­cause of his low char­ac­ter, he opted to stand by his claims that his ac­tions were “per­fect.” As a re­sult, Re­pub­li­cans must now fur­ther de­form their char­ac­ter to ac­com­mo­date his and scram­ble to pro­tect them­selves from hear­ing the truth at his im­peach­ment trial, on the ac­cu­rate but em­bar­rass­ing pre­text that the Democrats didn’t ex­pose the truth the right way.

Mr. Trump could have avoided im­peach­ment had he gov­erned, from the start, as a ser­vant of all Amer­i­cans, whether they voted for him or not. But that op­tion was no op­tion at all, be­cause his char­ac­ter would not al­low it. Now we are plung­ing fur­ther into dys­func­tion be­cause the pres­i­dency was never de­signed for a man who could not com­pre­hend what it means to be pres­i­den­tial.

Jonah Gold­berg is edi­tor-in-chief of The Dis­patch and the host of The Rem­nant pod­cast.

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