After the Damage Done by Trump, Can America Ever Be Great Again?
There will be no Mount Rushmore for Donald Trump. But, if there's a presidential library, it should contain a Hall of Tweets, a Hall of Lies, a Hall of Insults and, with the "Marines' Hymn" softly playing, a Hall of Montezuma, with a section of his border wall. Finally, there should be a Hall of Consequences, the grandest in the place. No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has mattered as much.
Trump has remade the Republican Party. It is no longer the party of Lincoln or Reagan, but increasingly a snarling, sneering collection of score-settlers, white nationalists, immigrant bashers, homophobes, science-deniers and religious reactionaries who praise a president who has lived a squalid personal life but who promised them a Supreme Court in their own image. Trump's GOP may not endure, but for the foreseeable future it reigns supreme.
Trump's dominance of his party is personified by Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader's first love was once the institution and its prerogatives. Just last week, however, he endorsed Trump's emergency decree, which rolled right over Congress, usurping its traditional role in order to fulfill a silly campaign pledge. Trump has personally berated McConnell, but -- unburdened by either pride or principle -- McConnell does what the president wants. He faces re-election next year in a state, Kentucky, whose heart throbs for Trump. Understandably, McConnell fears vilification as a moderate.
In foreign affairs, the Trump presidency has had a huge impact. By fiat, by insult and by a dazzling display of historical ignorance, Trump has diminished the Atlantic alliance which every president since Roosevelt has supported and nourished. The lessons of World War II and of the implosion of the Soviet communist empire -- signal achievements of American involvement and leadership in the affairs of Europe -- are being discarded. At the Munich Security Conference last week, much of Europe stood to applaud German Chancellor Angela Merkel but stayed seated for Vice President Mike Pence. Merkel reproached Trump's foreign policy; Pence defended it. The symbolism was stark: America may not yet be isolationist, but it is isolated.
Under Trump, the judiciary is being transformed. His judges not only are bitterly conservative but have been deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association at an unprecedented rate. He has vitiated Cabinet and other offices dealing with the environment and natural resources, turning over the grandeur of America to despoilers. Only his appointees' ineptness or sense of grandiosity -- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's $25,000 phone booth, for instance -- has slowed the onslaught. Pruitt did manage to get Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement before he resigned.
It's hard to know which of Trump's actions have had the greatest consequence. But maybe the most damaging is how he has soiled the presidency itself. His incessant lying -- The Washington Post counted 8,459 false or misleading statements as of Feb 3 -- has turned the presidency into a gong show. He sits at the desk of presidents who took the truth seriously, who may have lied on occasion but never routinely. Trump, though, spouts lies like a drunken parrot, with, approximately, similar plumage. He has diminished the importance of truth, making it indistinguishable from lies -- just more noise.
Trump's attacks on the press are vividly demagogic. He has weakened its ability to be believed, to uncover scandal, to hold accountable the otherwise unaccountable. He applies the prefix "fake" to any news he does not like. He does not simply disagree. He de-establishes and then concocts his own version. He has weakened the FBI, denigrated the CIA, praised Russia's Vladimir Putin and shrugged at the murder of a Post columnist by the Saudis. He is a president out of Orwell, a creature out of Kafka, a nightmare out of the Electoral College.
Will America recover from the Trump era? Not soon, maybe never. The wounds to the environment may never heal. Inept judges serve for life. Our erstwhile European allies will move on, finding their own way, which, we must pray, will not be the old way. The planet will cook and despots will thrive. Bad days are coming.
But maybe the most terrible consequence of all is the growing realization that Trump mined a vein of meanness in the American electorate. We are not the country we once were. As we see politicians act like cowards and a malevolent presidency grow at the expense of Congress, our once-unbounded faith in our own goodness is shaken. These are the consequences of Trump's presidency. He has not made America greater. Instead, he may have put greatness out of reach.
(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group