How long before the president appears on a White House balcony dressed up like a Third World generalissimo, wearing mirrored sunglasses and gold-fringed epaulets the size of football shoulder pads?
Hosting Russian diplomats in the White House just one day after boasting on national TV that he’d fired FBI Director James Comey to shut down the “fake news” investigation of his presidential campaign’s dalliance with Vladimir Putin’s spies can only be understood as an oligarch’s gesture of contempt.
Contempt for the truth, of course, which almost goes without saying. As if the initial cover story—that Comey got dumped for mistreating poor Hillary Clinton—weren’t insulting enough on its face.
But also contempt for the American news media, whom Trump barred from the meeting in favor of photographers from Tass, the Russian state news agency. As should have been predictable, that backfired badly. Photos of the president yukking it up in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak turned up in Moscow news media. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Trump was bragging about his sexual exploits.
Also contempt for the anti-Trump majority. Here’s how that great American Rush Limbaugh saw it: “So he fires Comey yesterday. Who’s he meet with today? He’s meeting with the Soviet, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov! I mean, what an epic troll this is.” (Republicans of the Limbaugh persuasion long ago chose party over country. In their minds, all competing values are subordinate to making Nancy Pelosi unhappy.)
But no, Trump wasn’t talking dirty to the Russians. We should be so lucky. Instead, he appears to have been expressing his contempt for the U.S. intelligence services, by recklessly boasting about Top Secret information regarding an ISIS terror plot that had been shared with the CIA by an ally.
That ally (probably Israel) will now be forced to reconsider whether or not the U.S. government can be trusted to keep a secret. Certainly not as long as Trump’s in office.See, people get murdered when spy networks get blown. Painstakingly cultivated sources flee for their lives. Hasn’t Trump even read a John LeCarre novel? Almost certainly not. Even a movie like The Bourne Identity might give the president a clue if he were capable of learning anything not directly related to his ego or his pocketbook.
Yet again the White House sent out respected advisors—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster—to issue carefully-worded non-denial denials. Trump undermined them in early morning tweets boasting that he had the unquestioned power to do what they’d just finished claiming that he hadn’t done.
The psychological subtext is unvarying: Big me, little you. Trusting this bombastic faker with sensitive national security intelligence is like trusting a basset hound with a ham sandwich. See, a real dictator like Vladimir Putin can pull off these contemptuous gestures. Besides being infinitely smarter and more self-controlled than his American apprentice, Putin’s also utterly ruthless and doesn’t care who knows it. Trump is merely egomaniacal and amoral.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wonders whether Trump is more thuggish or clownish. He concludes that “Trump can be fairly regarded as both incompetent and authoritarian. We may be saved by the fact that the feckless Trump is often the authoritarian Trump’s worst enemy. If we’re lucky, Trump’s astonishing indiscipline will be his undoing.”
But only if the Republican leadership begins to say publicly what some confide privately: that Trump is congenitally unfit for power and growing more so daily. Even formerly sympathetic figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough are beginning to say the word “Alzheimer’s” aloud. Trump’s verbal incoherence, angry outbursts, and incipient paranoia are consistent with the disease that killed his father. A timely diagnosis would give Republicans an escape hatch. But he can’t be forced to see a doctor.
Either way, things can’t go on like this much longer.