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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Emperor [of Lilliput] holds a stick in his hands,
both ends parallel to the horizon, while the candidates,
advancing one by one, sometimes leap over the stick,
sometimes creep under it backwards and forwards several times…
whoever performs his part with most agility, and holds
out longest in leaping and creeping, is rewarded with
the blue-colored silk…and you see very few persons
about this court who are not adorned with one of
these girdles.
–Jonathan Swift,
Gulliver’s Travels, 1726

Never mind that president-elect Trump and his keenest supporters have gone from boasting to whining in two short weeks. “Mommy, they’re making fun of me on TV. It’s not fair!” Nor that the world’s rudest man purports to give etiquette lessons to the cast of a Broadway play. Nor even that Trump appears on pace to set a new American record for the most campaign promises broken in the shortest time.

(Trump never settles lawsuits. Except when he does, paying $25 million in chump change to reimburse gullible students defrauded by “Trump University.” Given that he’s also the defendant in something like 75 additional lawsuits accusing him of everything from stiffing contractors to deceptive advertising, things could get expensive.)

Alas, Trump seems to confuse the presidency with being the emcee on a “reality TV” program. Or with being Emperor of Lilliput. It’s hard to say. It’s not merely the daily spectacle of veteran Republican hacks and flub-a-dubs like Chris Christie and Rick Perry being escorted into Trump’s garishly-appointed penthouse to perch upon his gilded chairs. The man clearly has no accurate idea of the powers of the presidency: what he can do and what he can’t as the elected leader of a constitutional democracy.

Consider the abandonment of his vow to prosecute “Crooked Hillary” Clinton for her imagined crimes. At campaign rallies, Trump led enthusiastic supporters chanting “Lock her up!” During their second televised debate, he promised Clinton to her face that “If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception.”

Somewhat haughtily, Hillary missed an opportunity to inform Trump that the president of the United States has no such power. There are elaborate mechanisms in the law to prevent the president from meddling in criminal cases. And a good thing too. Do you really want to live in a country whose president can order his political opponents jailed? No, you don’t.

Probably Hillary assumed that anybody who would even consider voting for her already knew that. Indeed, thanks largely to the epic failure of Kenneth Starr’s efforts to prosecute both Clintons during the make-believe “Whitewater” scandal, the Independent Counsel Act was allowed to expire in 1999, and good riddance.

Might Republicans be tempted to bring it back, in the way they bring back massive budget deficits whenever they’re in power? Not to harass an already defeated Democrat, no.

For that matter, no president can order the Department of Justice to drop an investigation, either. Given the harm FBI Director Comey’s unethical meddling in the election campaign did to his own reputation, it’s easy to imagine him relishing an opportunity to tell Trump to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Kellyanne Conway made it sound as if the great man was being magnanimous. “I think Hillary Clinton still has to face the fact that a majority of Americans don’t find her honest or trustworthy,” Conway allowed, “but if Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that’s a good thing.”

Actually, almost two million more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump, although I doubt she finds the thought comforting.

People aren’t exactly enthralled with Trump’s honesty. In the last Fox News poll before the election, 60 percent of voters said Trump was neither honest nor trustworthy enough to be president. Judging by his performance to date, it’s hard to see those numbers improving.

Meanwhile, Trump invited news media bigshots in for a leaping and creeping session at Trump Tower. According to the New York Post, the president-elect mercilessly bullied the assembled TV executives and talking heads. “It was like a [bleeping] firing squad,” one source claimed.

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful, dishonest media who got it all wrong…’ He called out [CNN president] Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the Post reported.

Talk about ingratitude! The cable news networks decision to treat Trump’s comings and goings as the #1 news story of 2016 is precisely what saddled the country with this big blowhard.

Kellyanne Conway, of course, described the proceedings as “very cordial, candid, and honest.”

The amazing thing is that nobody showed enough backbone to stand up and walk out.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech on his economic policy at the Alumisourse Building in Monessen, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Louis Ruediger

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