Friday, January 18, 2019


In response to BuzzFeed's Michael Cohen story, Frank Bruni argues that Donald Trump was heedless of norms and proprieties as a presidential candidate because he assumed he would lose.
There are several profoundly unsettling takeaways from a breathlessly discussed report by BuzzFeed News that Trump continued to push for a Trump Tower in Moscow deep into his 2016 campaign and later instructed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about that.

But I’m struck in particular by how this revelation, if true, underscores what many Trump observers have long believed, an insight that explains so much about his eccentric campaign and unethical governance: He never really expected to be president. More than that, he never really hoped to be.

That’s why he didn’t put business matters on hold or disentangle himself from glaring conflicts of interest. That’s why he refused to yoke himself to the sorts of rules that his predecessors had endeavored to follow.

... His campaign wasn’t a rehearsal for civic leadership. It was a brand-burnishing interregnum, a time-limited adventure in egomania.

“Donald Trump never thought he was going to be president,” the Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” told me. “He began this thing as a marketing venture, and I don’t think the people around him thought he was going to win, either. They all jointly saw this thing as a big food fest.”

... Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” told me: “His past is not a past someone brings into the presidency, and he’s not so stupid that he wouldn’t have understood that. And I think he naturally feared the kind of examination that he’s undergone since the election.”
I know a lot of you believe that Trump is in serious trouble if the BuzzFeed story is correct. Obviously we'll know that he's guilty of offenses that merit impeachment.

But the outcome of an impeachment trial in the Senate will be very much affected by public opinion -- and I've been dubious about this story's ability to move the needle from the moment I read it. If you already believe Trump is a crook and is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors (like me), this is confirmation. But if you pay little attention to the Russia story, like many (most?) of our fellow citizens, this might just seem like a businessman doing what comes naturally to him, even though he's running for president. Unless he's directly tied to Russian efforts to subvert American democracy, I worry that the suborning of perjury or the obstruction of justice in order to conceal a business deal isn't going to shock the consciences of those who aren't already committed Trumpophobes.

And the Bruni narrative -- that Trump was sensibly keeping his options open, because he didn't expect to win -- feels like excuse-making for Trump, even though I don't believe Bruni really means it that way. Bruni writes:
But because he wasn’t going to win, it wouldn’t matter that he’d paid off women with whom he’d had affairs, that he’d dispatched Cohen on so many unsavory errands, that he’d surrounded himself with such shady characters, that he refused to release his tax returns, that he forged ahead with the Trump International Hotel in Washington, that he vulgarly insulted the very lawmakers a president would need to collaborate with and that he surrendered any claim to moral authority by trafficking in racism and xenophobia. There would be no consequences because there would be no crown.
Never mind the fact that Trump is president now, and is still violating many of these norms -- this suggests that his run was a big lark and he had no reason to do any of the things we previously expected presidents to do.

At a certain point, one can imagine his lawyer in a Senate trial offering this as an excuse for everything, including collusion with Russians intent on subverting American democracy -- Hey, it was all meant to advance his real estate business. You can't convict a guy for wanting to make a buck, can you?

If America allows Trump to skate this way, we'll be treating him as the spoiled child he is. It doesn't matter what he thought was going to happen. He was a major party nominee. He had a serious shot at the White House by definition. Therefore, he had a responsibility to conduct his life as if he might win -- and if he's as rich as he says he is, he should have just cashed out his holdings and prepared to live the aboveboard life of a well-scrutinized elected official, as so many other businesspeople-turned-politicians have done. He didn't because he's a sleazebag and a crook who regularly assumes he can get away with anything. That would have been true even if he'd had better polling in 2016.

No comments: