|President Trump boards the Marine One helicopter in Maryland, January 26, 2017|
The president has become a farce to be reckoned with.
With Trump, everything past is prologue. On the day after his inauguration, while millions in the U.S. and around the world protested his improbable election, Trump went to C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. The ostensible purpose of the visit was to patch things up after he had repeatedly trashed the intelligence community in the weeks leading up to his swearing-in. Trump’s speech was short, just 15 minutes, but even here, after paying lip service to the C.I.A. and its heritage, he went off piste, claiming that his beef with the intelligence community was a figment of the media’s imagination—as was the slim size of the crowd at his inaugural. These complete fabrications were made despite all printed, oral, and visual evidence to the contrary. That he spoke these words standing before the marble wall of 117 stars representing the lives of the men and women from the agency who had died in the line of duty was troubling enough. Across the hall from him, however—and in plain sight—was another marble wall, with a clearly visible quote from John 8:32 put there by former C.I.A. director Allen Dulles: AND YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.
Had Trump heeded those words, his presidency wouldn’t be so trussed up in the Gordian knot of his appalling lies, contradictions, and deceptions. His presidency is effectively doomed—it’s only a question now of how and when it will end. Treason? Impeachment? Incapacity? Until that day, you should be forgiven if you think you are suffering from extreme, full-blown P.T.S.D.—President Trump Stress Disorder. You are not alone. A serial liar in the office or home is one thing—and stressful enough. But a serial liar in the highest office in the land is something else altogether. Couple that with an erratically fragile ego, a severely diminished mental capacity, a lacerating temper, and access to the nuclear codes, and it’s going to get a whole lot hotter in here.
If you think you are having a tough time of it since the election, please have some sympathy for the journalists, career civil servants, and White House supplicants who have to deal with Trumpian levels of insanity on a minute-to-minute basis. Trumpian! The word “trump” formerly was a verb used in polite bridge and whist circles. Trump, the man, is now up there with Hercules and Sisyphus with his own branded adjective. I’m not completely sure what it stands for. But when it finally settles into the lexicon, I’m certain that it will be a disconcerting combination of petulant, preening, ignorant, shameless, vulgar, paranoid, vainglorious, reckless, imperious, impulsive, unhinged, callous, corrosive, narcissistic, intemperate, juvenile, disloyal, venal, chaotic, squalid—what have I forgotten? Oh, yes!—and just mind-numbingly, epically incompetent.
In removing not only F.B.I. director James Comey but also Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, in the middle of sweeping investigations into Trump’s links to the Russians as well as their role in the election, the president committed about as open-and-shut a case of obstruction of justice as you are going to find outside of a banana republic. Comey’s contemporaneous notes to himself of an Oval Office meeting involving the investigation of former national-security adviser Michael Flynn—“I hope you can let this go,” the president urged—are merely proof of what was already clear. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Comey’s detailed and verbatim accounts; he will not be an unpublished author for long. In the olden days, when Trump sent threatening legal letters to competitors or journalists (and I was on the receiving end of a number of them), they were generally first sent to the New York Post’s “Page Six,” which is where most of the targets read his complaints about them for the first time. When Comey learned from a television report that he had been sacked, it came as no surprise to serious Trump scholars. The F.B.I. chief was just the most recent victim of the president’s rules of combat. The Oval Office cameos the day after the Comey firing, by the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, followed by Richard Nixon’s Angel of Death, Henry Kissinger, added a Marx Brothers Night at the Opera element to the whole episode. It was later revealed that only a TASS photographer had been allowed into the Russkifest and that Trump had divulged classified information about ISIS to the Russian guests, compromising the source and jeopardizing a key intelligence relationship. A different Marx—not one of the brothers—had a famous remark about history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Trump has it the other way around.
As the country emerged from the ill-fated first 100 days of the Trump presidency, the odor of permanent scandal was already palpable. The Comey firing, the Comey memo, the secrets spilled by Trump to his Russian visitors, and the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller were merely the capstone to weeks of chaos and conflict of interest. Gobbling up headlines before Comeygate were Flynn’s paid links to Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Kushner family’s craven attempt to lure Chinese investors to a New Jersey luxury-apartment project with the promise of EB-5 visas and a tacit connection to the White House. When it comes to the president’s extended family, if this is what they think they can get away with out in the open, you can only imagine what they are up to in the shadows. Trump says that he has no business dealings with the Russians. My guess is that this is an out-and-out lie. If, on the outside chance, he doesn’t actually have Russian investors, it certainly hasn’t been for lack of trying. And it would prove that even Russian oligarchs have their standards.
In describing the events surrounding Russkigate, making any sort of reference to Seven Days in May—John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller about the attempted overthrow of a president going easy on the Soviet Union—is almost too obvious. Instead, you could cast the entire Comey affair with actors from Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Jimmy Stewart as Comey, Claude Raines as Jeff Sessions, Eugene Pallette as Steve Bannon, Guy Kibbee as Sean Spicer, Porter Hall as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and devilish old Edward Arnold as Trump himself. Sadly, though, the Trump administration is no Capra movie. If anything, it will probably end up being more like a Quentin Tarantino film—the final act being a Mexican standoff with all the participants’ lawyers in a circle, aiming their guns at one another.
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