This feels like a week of substantial, even shattering, revelations about the Trump White House. But it wasn’t, not really. The early excerpts of Bob Woodward’s book, the anonymous op-ed from the senior White House official — how much did any of it truly change our understanding of the Trump administration?
It’s no secret that much of Trump’s staff thinks he’s ill-informed, impulsive, even dangerous. Political scientist Dan Drezner has been tweeting quotes from Trump staffers talking about the president as if he is a toddler for years now. There are now 475 tweets in the thread.
And even if there weren’t, these are not the kind of revelations that require insider leaks to alert the public. Anyone who has watched Trump speak or read his statements can conclude he is ignorant, reckless, distractible, narcissistic, illiberal, conspiratorial, and bigoted.
It was only Monday, after all, that Trump went on Twitter to attack his own attorney general for permitting the investigations and indictments of two Republican members of Congress. It was just a few weeks ago that Trump’s personal lawyer pleaded guilty to criminal behavior and his campaign manager was found guilty of it. It was just a few months ago that Trump mounted a stage next to Vladimir Putin and praised the strongman while musing that he wasn’t sure whether to trust Russia or his own intelligence agencies when it came to the Democratic National Committee hacking.
I’ll say this about Donald Trump: He has never hidden who or what he is. He has been unrepentantly himself since the Obama administration, when he barnstormed the country championing the birther conspiracy theory; he has been unrepentantly himself since he descended that golden escalator and called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers; he has been unrepentantly himself since the day after he accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency and held a press conference wondering whether Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in the murder of John F. Kennedy (seriously, look it up).
That Trump has long been Trump has not gone unnoticed in Washington. As Republican Sen. Bob Corker said in response to the op-ed, “this is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one.”
Corker’s statement was meant to be a damning indictment of Trump, but it’s actually a damning indictment of Corker and his colleagues, who have done little to check Trump save complain to the press. They have known the situation was this bad since day one, and they have done nothing about it.
Corker, at least, speaks out. The rest of his party has studiously avoided the subject, actively protected Trump from investigation and oversight, and constantly excused the president’s outbursts. Privately, they gripe that they know this president is unfit for office, but they don’t want to imperil their tax agenda, judicial nominees, or reelections by actually acting on that judgment.
The rest of Corker’s quote is telling as to the practical solution Republicans have settled on. “That’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the President to stay,” he said. “I thank General Mattis whenever I see him.”
This is ridiculous. The Founding Fathers were not unaware of the possibility that a demagogue or a knave might win the presidency. That’s why they checked the executive with an independent Congress and built in powers of impeachment. That Republicans in this Congress have proven so subservient to — or scared of — Trump that they have let the fate of the country hinge on whether his staff can adequately distract and calm him is a subversion of the constitutional order and an abdication of responsibility.
As David Frum writes:
Impeachment is a constitutional mechanism. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment is a constitutional mechanism. Mass resignations followed by voluntary testimony to congressional committees are a constitutional mechanism. Overt defiance of presidential authority by the president’s own appointees — now that’s a constitutional crisis.
Trump is what he is. And what he is is a man who shouldn’t be president. The question is whether our political system is capable of responding to that kind of mistake, or threat, in any serious way. So far, the answer is no.
When I wrote about the constitutional role and importance of the impeachment power last year, I ended it this way. It’s as relevant today as it was then:
Sometimes I imagine this era going catastrophically wrong — a nuclear exchange with North Korea, perhaps, or a genuine crisis in American democracy — and historians writing about it in the future. They will go back and read Trump’s tweets and his words and read what we were saying, and they will wonder what the hell was wrong with us. You knew, they’ll say. You knew everything you needed to know to stop this. And what will we say in response?