We are watching the Trump presidency under siege from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and each of us has to decide whether the thin achievements of the administration outweigh the ongoing issues of character that bedevil the man in the Oval Office.
“Achievements” is subject to interpretation, of course. While many Trump supporters applaud his travel bans, anti-immigration policies, tax breaks for the rich and the opening of formerly protected lands to drilling and mining, many of us see these policies as attacks on bedrock American values.
It comes down to this: If President Trump is making changes in government and across the land that you like, are you willing to give him a pass on his persistent and epic lying? Does character matter to you? Is lying a deal breaker in a president, or any prominent person, for that matter, or can it be seen as a means to an end?
In trying to perform the ethical contortions necessary to view the president in a positive light, I’ve come to accept that some Americans approve, even applaud his “get ’er done” attitude. Trump’s voters want fewer immigrants coming in, better trade deals with other countries and their own America First brand of patriotism. The rich Trumpsters are as irrationally exuberant as the Dow. Some supporters of Israel love the president’s initiative on Jerusalem. Evangelicals support anti-choice policies that push back pro-choice forces.
There are plenty of Americans who are just fine with the changes under way; they don’t want to derail a presidency that is fulfilling their wish list. These folks are neither deplorable nor ignorant, but I believe they are wrong.
As he has demonstrated every day of his presidency, Trump has no moral center. In that place where most of us feel conscience, guilt, humility or self-doubt, he has a blank space. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know this. There is no achievement, however great, that can compensate for the president’s nonstop lying, dissembling, shameful sexism, philandering and stunning disregard for those in need.
When the sun rises on a presidency and when it sets, the single most important quality in a leader is character. We citizens need to trust our president. What any casual observer sees in Donald Trump is an empty suit who issues orders, lines his pockets and self-comforts with reminiscences of his electoral success. Really, one could feel sorry for him, for his attention deficit, his neediness and his lack of skills for the job. One could feel sorry for him if he wasn’t sitting in the Oval Office.
If you’re a one-issue voter, an evangelical Christian supporting Trump, how do you finesse his admission to sexually assaulting women? If you’re a Zionist, how do you reconcile the ethical demands of your beliefs with support for a proven liar?
Our president is in good company. We’ve had other famous liars as heads of state, CEOs, religious leaders and Wall Street wolves who eventually were brought down — not by bad behavior, but by lying about it.
When President Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” he was lying. That turned out to be the flaw that ended his presidency. The man was sophisticated in foreign policy. However, despite his successes in opening up China and moving toward peace in Vietnam, his career ended in disgrace.
The list of high-profile liars is long. Bill Clinton’s reputation, his family and the country suffered mightily from his lies about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was undone by his lies. Bernie Madoff destroyed his family and many others by building a fake company that preyed on investors. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, lied early and often and had to resign. Even the elegant Martha Stewart landed in jail for lying about a dicey stock transaction. Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and, more recently, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos, all men of reasonable accomplishment, lied their way into deep trouble.
On the record, Trump has lied thousands of times since he emerged as a public figure and, most concerning, since he became president. Just last week, he said he never tried to fire Mueller, yet well-sourced accounts say that back in June he did just that. He lied about his own election results, his plans for the Dreamers, his treatment of women, his business principles and his troubling racism, revealed in his own words and deeds.
You may like some of his initiatives, but can the pluses possibly cancel out the man’s character deficits? He says, nearly every day, “There was no collusion.” Over and over, every time a reporter asks any question, he goes back to “no collusion.”
That tactic is reminiscent of another world leader who unleashed murder and suffering across the globe with his repeated lies. That leader stated his own M.O. in a book he wrote: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough,” Adolf Hitler said, “it will be believed.”
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.