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Monday, September 25, 2017

Why does President Trump rush off weekend after weekend to his Mar-a-Lago palazzo in Florida? Because Mar-a-Lago is totally under his control. There he can play the prince, favoring a wedding party with a cameo or entertaining the Japanese prime minister in lavish Palm Beach style.

Why does he also spend so much time in Trump Tower, his flashy Manhattan spread, when he has the gracious White House at his disposal? Because everyone there is his servant, as opposed to a public servant.

“The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances,” Niccolo Machiavelli, the Renaissance sage, coldly told his noble patrons, “and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.” (“Vulgar” in this context means “common,” not “crude.”)

Why does Trump surround himself with spokespeople happy to repeat his easily verifiable lies? It’s not hard to find ambitious aides lacking scruples, but wouldn’t Trump be better-served by surrogates who understand the value of their credibility? Yes, but that would impair the master-servant nature of the relationship.

Rather than communicate to the nation, White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump’s more reptilian proxies seem to serve an audience of one. Their job is to maintain the illusion of an all-powerful executive, a fearsome force who makes the world tremble with every tweet.

Machiavelli also wrote, “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”

Mike Flynn played the wacko throughout the Trump campaign, spreading fake news and threatening Hillary Clinton with jail. That he would be exposed for possibly traitorous dealings with the Russians was a matter of time, yet Trump made this cracked personality his national security adviser.

Having invaded the American political system to put Trump in office, the Russians are now messing with the man himself. Just as investigations of administration ties to the Kremlin are gearing up, Russia is piercing the Trump balloon with provocations. Last week, a Russian jet buzzed a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea. And there were reports of a Russian spy ship “loitering” 30 miles south of Groton, Connecticut, home to a Navy submarine base. The ship was in international waters, it’s true, but one can’t doubt that the Russians knew the U.S. public wouldn’t get that.

An investigation of Trump’s own business dealings with the Russians must include release of the president’s tax returns. As chairman of the House oversight committee, Jason Chaffetz has the power to subpoena them, but the Utah Republican has so far refused to do so, framing it as a “fishing expedition.”

However, many of his constituents think Chaffetz is ignoring what may be a major national security threat to protect Trump. Hundreds of them attended his recent town hall meeting and chanted, “Do your job.”

As one told The Atlantic, “This wasn’t about Chaffetz being a Republican. … This was about Chaffetz straining at gnats for Hillary and Obama and swallowing camels when it comes to Trump.”

Trump’s fear of opening his tax returns to public scrutiny could go beyond revealing what Donald Jr. called the family’s considerable business dealings with Russia. The release could also expose a net worth well below the billion-dollar mark.

Not being rich is normally nothing to be ashamed of. But it would be for someone who’s sold himself as a hotshot tycoon able to apply his business smarts to fixing all that’s wrong in the country.

Trump doesn’t seem to fear failure — after all, he’s filed for bankruptcy four times — so much as he fears not being seen as successful. Appearances are paramount in the Trump universe, and frankly, things are not looking so good these days.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions questions during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria