So don’t say you weren’t warned. Trump got away with it the first time. The lesson he learned was to try again.
David A. Graham: Trump has no shame
Back in the early days of the Trump presidency, Trump’s enablers wistfully suggested that he might grow into the job as he learned not to do corrupt things.
In June 2017, news broke that Trump had demanded FBI Director James Comey go easy on Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. “The president’s new at this,” then–House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the time. “He’s new to government. So he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”
Give him time, Ryan seemed to suggest, and Trump might stop acting like a criminal in office.
Trump drew a very different conclusion from the one to which Ryan had hoped to nudge him. He concluded: Nobody is going to stop me.
The breathtaking thing about Trump’s latest abuse is how many people knew about some, or all, of it as it happened. Vice President Mike Pence personally spoke to the Ukrainian president about the importance of “corruption”—which in Trump-speak means the importance of doing more of it, not less.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney relayed the order to block the distribution of congressionally voted-on funds to Ukraine.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extracted statements from Ukrainian officials, in what seems like an effort to shield Trump from the scandal.
And all of this happened in plain sight. Everybody could see the money being withheld for months after Congress had voted on it. Everybody knew that Trump’s personal emissary Rudy Giuliani had traveled to Ukraine to seek dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. Giuliani appeared on TV to talk about it!
There’s no mystery; there’s never been a mystery. There’s been only impunity, and there continues to be impunity.
Trump has never been furtive. He commits his wrongs in the full glare of publicity. Bribes to Trump are not delivered by shadowy men in underground garages. They are collected right on Pennsylvania Avenue, in a garish hotel with Trump’s name right on the door. Trump does not stealthily embezzle Republican donations. The party simply books its events on his premises, every misappropriated dollar counted and disclosed. When Trump invited Russia to hack his opponent and deliver her emails to him, he did it on live television.
Trump takes advantage of a human tendency to think, If he’s not ashamed, maybe he did nothing wrong. Normal people are taken aback by pathological people, and Trump is the most pathological president in American history.
But we’re at the breaking point. The Ukraine story confirms that Trump will do anything. Anything. Everything.
He relies on everybody around him being too dazed, too psychologically weak to resist him and uphold even the most basic legality and decency. So far, he’s gambled right. It’s time—way past time—to prove him wrong.