In November 2016, the American people (with a big assist from the Electoral College) elected a reality TV star as the 45th President of the United States. In the months that followed, the tone and substance of the words, decisions, and policies emanating from the White House left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Obama years had come to an abrupt end. Many Americans applauded the unfiltered, bombastic man with yellow hair, orange skin, and a too-long tie as a refreshing change from Obama’s oft-professorial demeanor and cadence. Others—myself included—were concerned that Mr. Trump was indeed the character he portrayed during the election. But we hoped that he would rise to the requirements of the office. We skeptically eyed his rallies and press sprays, desperately searching for any sign that the office was shaping the man.
We found instead that the man was not merely what he seemed to be on the campaign trail, but now ensconced in the most powerful job on the planet, he was turning out to be much worse. His bombast turned to bullying, his vulgarity to viciousness, his avarice to autocracy. The man we once thought of as a successful billionaire was revealed to be nothing more than a huckster of bad vodka, promoter of a fake university, and a rather pitiful trust fund baby with bone spurs. The self-proclaimed author of “The Art of the Deal” was, in reality, a serial failure with six bankrupt business ventures in 18 years. The “very stable genius” even managed to fail at a casino in Atlantic City, cheating hundreds of contractors, suppliers, and small business owners of millions of dollars. His edifice was utterly false, his achievements non-existent, and qualifications for the presidency as thin as his starched comb-over. It was all a lie and one that we collectively owned for at least the next four years.
But even in all of that, I was convinced that a group of responsible and capable adults would coalesce around him to ensure the continuance of good governance, albeit with a Tea Party Conservative flair. But within hours of taking the oath of office, after subjecting a drenched audience on the National Mall to yet another dystopian diatribe half-written and half-riffed, we found a parade of half-wits, ideologues, grifters, and propagandists filling the White House. Trump managed to assemble one of the least-qualified cabinets and staff in modern history.
His Chief-of-Staff was a GOP hack with no legislative experience and the personality of a footstool. His National Security Advisor, a disgraced former general, fired from his last job by Obama. His senior advisory staff led by a self-proclaimed Leninist with one goal—to burn down the institutions of our republic—and rounded out by his daughter and her husband (who to this day has not been qualified for a security clearance, but instead had one bestowed upon him by his father-in-law). He gave the Attorney General job to a bonafide racist from Alabama bent on punishing brown people for daring to seek asylum and a new life in his US of A. He handed the Department of Education to a genuine billionaire who spent most of her adult life trying to foist charter schools and vouchers on unsuspecting parents around the country. The one cabinet post that we could pin our hope to was the Secretary of Defense. Marine General James Mattis was a warrior-scholar who had commanded troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq and was widely respected by the military establishment and politicians of both parties. He was going to be the adult in the room. Or so we thought.
The first three years of the Trump administration, in retrospect, seem like three shockingly bizarre seasons of a reality TV show. A parade of scandals crippled Trump’s ability to focus on the few policy goals “all the best people” could throw together and forced the White House staff to be in a constant state of damage control. The White House press shop even abandoned the decades-old tradition of daily press briefings because they could not stand the unyielding scrutiny and fact-checking from the national news media. The Special Counsel investigation unearthed dozens of criminals in Trump’s orbit and laid bare the President’s attempts to obstruct justice and leverage Russian interference in the 2016 election. As several of his close advisors and his attorney were sentenced to prison, the President seemed as slippery as a sweaty stripper pole. Nothing seemed to stick.
As a nation, we were forced to watch our President kowtow to one dictator after another, often parroting their talking points to the detriment and shame of our national honor. He rewarded the monster in North Korea with a face-to-face meeting and got nothing in return except for more nuclear tests. Trump publicly absolved Vladimir Putin of any role in the 2016 election interference, and in the process, discredited and dishonored the men and women of our intelligence community. He first turned a blind eye then absolved the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia of ordering the brutal murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, an award-winning journalist, and critic of the Saudi royal family. He withdrew our troops from Syria at the request of the Turkish autocrat Erdogan, condemning thousands of ethnic Kurds to certain death and breaking faith with our courageous Kurdish allies. His admiration for these brutal men is something we have never seen in an American President, and it serves to undermine decades of foreign policy, tramples the sacrifice of our servicemen and women, and dramatically compromises our national security.
Then on a call with the newly-elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked our besieged ally to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of the military aid that Congress had appropriated. It was a classic and corrupt quid pro quo, and it was clearly and irrefutably a crime. Trump’s opposition finally had their smoking gun!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reluctantly responded to her House majority caucus and gave the green light to open an official impeachment inquiry. Two months of hearings filled with clear and convincing evidence seemed to ensure that Trump’s criminal behavior would finally be exposed and punished.
But we all know what happened. Senate Republicans, with the notable exception of Mitt Romney, voted to acquit the President and thereby change the nature of the presidency forever. It was now precedent that the President of the United States was immune to criminal prosecution. He is effectively a King.
Donald Trump’s post-impeachment behavior has been more shocking than I ever imagined it could be. His admiration for dictators has manifested as an imitation of their worst and most harmful traits. Virtually every person who testified truthfully during the impeachment inquiry has either been fired by Trump, removed from their post and demoted, or has left government service in disgrace. Any hint of disloyalty is swiftly and publicly punished. Lives, reputations, and careers are destroyed via Twitter.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the COVID-19 pandemic struck our shores like a tsunami. We immediately learned that the White House task force the previous administration had assembled after the 2009 H1N1 epidemic was dissolved as a cost-cutting measure by Trump and John Bolton. The national stockpile of protective equipment, supplies, and life-saving devices was woefully understocked. The administration refused the testing technology offered by the WHO in favor of faulty tests developed by the CDC. We were not prepared, and the American people would pay with their lives.
The President was on TV daily and tweeting hourly that COVID-19 was nothing to worry about, we had it under control, and that it would miraculously disappear when Spring arrived. Every word was a lie conjured to protect the reputation of King Trump during an election year. The President was more concerned with the historically high DOW than the mounting daily death toll.
The lies have since morphed into a daily propaganda broadcast from the White House. Trump rambles on attacking the press at every turn, deflecting blame for the abysmal federal response. He denounces any governor who dares to criticize him or the failure of the federal government to provide a cohesive and coordinated response to the crisis. He irresponsibly promotes unproven and potentially dangerous medications intended to treat malaria and lupus. He claims “absolute authority” yet fails to use the actual powers of his office to mitigate the disaster.
Lately, he has turned to incitement of hazardous public protests against lawful and prudent stay-at-home orders in states with Democratic governors. His tweets of ‘Liberate Michigan’ and ‘Liberate Virginia’ are dog-whistles that encourage the darkest elements of our society to crawl out of their bunkers to parade their guns, swastikas, and grammatically-challenged signs in defiance of physical distancing orders.
The pathological liar-in-chief has shown himself to be utterly devoid of even the tiniest fraction of compassion for the sick and dying. Trump has no regard for the heroic frontline healthcare workers and first responders, as evidenced by his administration’s inability to coordinate the delivery of critical protective equipment. He even promoted the despicable lie that these heroes were stealing PPE and selling it for personal gain! He is a sociopath and a narcissist with one goal—retain power at any cost.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this phantasmagoric drama we are living is the continued support of Trump by more than 40% of our countrymen. I have no category for people who can conjure excuses for the President. How any thoughtful person could watch the behavior of this man and not see a petulant, dangerous man-child is unfathomable.
I wonder if those who support President Trump can recall the leadership of George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks? What aspect of Trump’s words, demeanor, or temperament are comparable to President Bush? How does his attacks of the media and disregard for the rule of law remind you of Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush? How do his policies comport with traditional Conservative values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal liberty, and global leadership? What facets of his personality do you hope your children or grandchildren would emulate? How do his actions, attitudes, and words imitate Christ?
My sincere prayer is that when Americans vote this fall, we remember what our country used to be. I urge you to recall the feeling of unity we felt as we displayed our flags after 9/11. Think back to the way you felt when President Reagan uttered, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Remember when the entire world looked to us for leadership. For us to ever have any hope of being that country again, we must have a President that values our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must elect a person who will genuinely preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Otherwise, this great and marvelous experiment in self-governance may come to an end, and the blood of patriots across three centuries wasted.
God, help us.