WASHINGTON – The Court of Mad King Donald is not a presidency. It is an affliction, one that saps the life out of our democratic institutions, and it must be fiercely resisted if the nation as we know it is to survive.
I wish that were hyperbole. The problem is not just that President Trump is selfish, insecure, egotistical, ignorant and unserious. It is that he neither fully grasps nor minimally respects the concept of honor, without which our governing system falls apart. He believes “honorable” means “obsequious in the service of Trump.” He believes everyone else’s motives are as base as his.
The Trump administration is, indeed, like the court of some accidental monarch who is tragically unsuited for the duties of his throne. However long it persists, we must never allow ourselves to think of the Trump White House as anything but aberrant. We must fight for the norms of American governance lest we forget them in their absence.
It gets worse and worse. The past week has marked a succession of new lows.
Trump has started a sustained campaign to goad or humiliate Attorney General Jeff Sessions into resigning. Trump has blasted Sessions on Twitter, at a news conference, in newspaper interviews and at a campaign-style rally. He has called Sessions “beleaguered” and said repeatedly how “disappointed” he is in the attorney general.
Forget, for the moment, that Sessions was the first sitting U.S. senator to support Trump’s campaign, giving him new credibility among conservatives. Forget also that Sessions is arguably having more success than any other Cabinet member in getting Trump’s agenda implemented. Those things aside, what kind of leader treats a lieutenant with such passive-aggressive obnoxiousness? Trump is too namby-pamby to look Sessions in the eye and say, “You’re fired.”
That’s what the president clearly is trying to summon the courage to do, however. The Washington Post reported that Trump has been “musing” with his courtiers about the possibility of firing Sessions and naming a replacement during the August congressional recess.
Trump has no respect for the rule of law. He is enraged that Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the election, and thus is not in a position to protect the House of Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller. According to The New York Times, “Sharing the president’s frustration have been people in his family, some of whom have come under scrutiny in the Russia investigation.” I’m guessing that means the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Who elected them, by the way?
Trump seeks to govern by whim and fiat. On Wednesday morning, he used Twitter to announce a ban on transgender people serving in the military, surprising his own top military leaders. Pentagon spokesmen told reporters to ask the White House for details; White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters to ask the Pentagon. Was Trump trying to reignite the culture wars? Would the thousands of transgender individuals now serving in the military be purged? Was this actual policy or just a fit of indigestion?
Inside the mad king’s court, the internecine battles are becoming ever more brutal. Members of Trump’s inner circle seek his favor by leaking negative information about their rivals. This administration is more hostile to the media than any in recent memory, but also more eager to whisper juicy dirt about the ambitious courtier down the hall.
Trump’s new favorite, Anthony Scaramucci, struts around more like a chief of staff than a communications director, which is his nominal role. Late Wednesday night – after dining with Trump and his head cheerleader, Sean Hannity – Scaramucci took a metaphorical rapier to the actual chief of staff, Reince Priebus, by strongly hinting on Twitter that Priebus leaks to reporters. The next morning, Scaramucci told CNN that “if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”
Why bring in Scaramucci? Because, I fear, the mad king is girding for war. Trump is reckless enough to fire Mueller if he digs too deeply into the business dealings of the Trump Organization and the Kushner Companies.
What then? Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell draft and push through a new special prosecutor statute so that Mueller can quickly be reappointed? Will House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately open debate on articles of impeachment? Will we, the people, defend our democracy?
Do not become numb to the mad king’s outrages. The worst is yet to come.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.