Trump puts his self­ish aims above na­tion’s best in­ter­ests

In a re­cent ra­dio in­ter­view, Don­ald Trump said that “the sad­dest thing is, be­cause I am the pres­i­dent of the United States, I am not sup­posed to be in­volved with the Jus­tice Depart­ment. I’m not sup­posed to be in­volved with the FBI. I’m not sup­posed to be

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - ROBERT RE­ICH Robert Re­ich, a for­mer U.S. sec­re­tary of la­bor, is a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at UC Berke­ley. He blogs daily at www.face­book. com/rbre­ich. To com­ment, sub­mit your let­ter to the editor at SFChron­i­­ters.

In a se­ries of tweets the next morn­ing, Trump called on the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI to “do what is right and proper” by launch­ing crim­i­nal probes of Clin­ton.

Trump’s ob­vi­ous aim was to de­flect at­ten­tion from Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe of his cam­paign, and of the in­dict­ments is­sued against his for­mer cam­paign aides. But by call­ing on the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton, and by lament­ing that he can­not do “the kind of things I would love to be do­ing,” Trump crossed a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous line.

In a democ­racy bound by the rule of law, pres­i­dents do not pros­e­cute their po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. Nor, un­til now, have they tried to stir up pub­lic anger to­ward their for­mer op­po­nents.

Our demo­cratic sys­tem of gov­ern­ment de­pends on pres­i­dents putting that sys­tem above their own par­ti­san aims.

As Har­vard po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Ar­chon Fung has noted, once an elec­tion is over, can­di­dates’ gra­cious­ness to one an­other is an im­por­tant demon­stra­tion of their com­mit­ment to the demo­cratic sys­tem over the spe­cific out­comes they fought to achieve. This helps re-es­tab­lish ci­vil­ity and so­cial co­he­sion. It re­minds the pub­lic that our al­le­giance is not to­ward a par­tic­u­lar per­son or party but to our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment.

Think of Al Gore’s con­ces­sion speech to Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000, after five weeks of a bit­terly con­tested elec­tion and just one day after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in fa­vor of Bush. “I say to Pres­i­dent-elect Bush that what re­mains of par­ti­san ran­cor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stew­ard­ship of this coun­try.”

Gore pub­licly bowed to the in­sti­tu­tions of our democ­racy. “Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spo­ken,” he said. “Let there be no doubt, while I strongly dis­agree with the court’s de­ci­sion, I ac­cept it . ... And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a peo­ple and the strength of our democ­racy, I of­fer my con­ces­sion.”

Bush’s re­sponse to Gore was no less gra­cious.

“Vice Pres­i­dent Gore and I put our hearts and hopes into our cam­paigns; we both gave it our all,” Bush said. “We shared sim­i­lar emo­tions. I un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult this mo­ment must be for Vice Pres­i­dent Gore and his fam­ily. He has a distinguished record of ser­vice to our coun­try as a con­gress­man, a sen­a­tor and a vice pres­i­dent.”

Many vot­ers con­tin­ued to doubt the le­git­i­macy of Bush’s vic­tory, but there was no so­cial un­rest, no civil war. Amer­i­cans didn’t re­treat into war­ring tribes.

Think of what might have oc­curred if Gore had bit­terly ac­cused Bush of win­ning fraud­u­lently and blamed five of the Repub­li­can ap­pointees on the Supreme Court for sid­ing with Bush for par­ti­san rea­sons.

Think of what might have hap­pened if, dur­ing his cam­paign, Bush had vowed to put Gore in jail for var­i­ous im­pro­pri­eties, and then, after he won, called on the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI to launch a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Gore.

Such state­ments — close to ones that Trump has ac­tu­ally made — might have im­per­iled the po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity of the na­tion.

In­stead, Gore and Bush made the same moral choice their pre­de­ces­sors made after ev­ery pre­vi­ous Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and for the same rea­son.

They un­der­stood that the demon­stra­tions of re­spect for each other and for the Con­sti­tu­tion con­firmed the na­tion’s com­mit­ment to our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. This was far more im­por­tant than their own losses or wins. Don­ald Trump has no such con­cern. This is the essence of Trump’s fail­ure as pres­i­dent — not that he has cho­sen one set of poli­cies over an­other, or that he has lied re­peat­edly and chron­i­cally, or even that he has be­haved in child­ish and vin­dic­tive ways un­be­com­ing a pres­i­dent.

It is that he has sac­ri­ficed the pro­cesses and in­sti­tu­tions of Amer­i­can democ­racy to achieve his own self­ish ends.

By say­ing and do­ing what­ever he be­lieves it takes for him to come out on top, Trump has abused the trust we place in a pres­i­dent to pre­serve and pro­tect the na­tion’s ca­pac­ity for self­gov­ern­ment.

This will be his most dam­ag­ing and most damn­ing legacy.

Doug Mills / New York Times 2007

Al Gore and Ge­orge W. Bush put aside their dif­fer­ences after their bit­ter elec­tion for the good of the coun­try.

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