The world continues its bleak observations of the dumpster fire that is Trump’s presidency as the indictments, investigations, subpoenas and tirades against pretty much every American ideal piles up. I’ve come to notice an interesting trend, also picked up by late-night humorists and the occasional insightful journalist: how the president obfuscates as to whether Michael Cohen is loyal enough not to flip. The media tantalizingly “analyzes” the potential information that a “flip” of a member of one of the president’s inner circle could reveal. Then the press secretary demurs about a potential pardon for Trump’s favorite pet (and ottoman). But there is a key element in all of this: guilt.
Virtually no one — not in the media, not the assorted legal teams, not even the White House — entertains the highly unlikely possibility that Trump has nothing to hide. No one says, “Well, it is possible there’s no ‘there’ there.” At their most gracious, some talking heads might say “Well, there’s nothing indictable.” There is a supremely profound difference in those ideas. I suppose even the most ardent Trump supporter probably assumes that their hero had some shady deals in his past, but how new an idea is this? Let’s take a moment — in that frenetic, desperately laughing, hilarious way because what else can you do at this point? — to be fair to our 45th, and possibly final, president.
I’m trying to think of a modern president without a whiff of scandal before they took office. Barack Obama had questionable ties to a firebrand pastor who made some pretty offensive remarks. George W. Bush had a history of alcoholism and drug use. Bill Clinton? I admire the guy’s intellect but his personal skeletons were very crowded in that closet. Squeaky clean George H.W. Bush had a reputation as a carpetbagger and was a staunch supporter of Nixon during Watergate. Ronald Reagan helped to implement the blacklist as head of the Screen Actors Guild. Clearly we’ve accepted as a country that we seek, either consciously or subconsciously, flawed leaders. We’ve accepted that the merits and skill sets we often seek in a president lend themselves to lapses in judgment, or just some casual corruption.
There’s something different — OK, many, many, many things — about Trump, though. Past presidents have taken a lot of routes to refute their past shenanigans, sculpting confessions, half-admittances and dismissals with humor and rationalizations. Rarely, though, have ever we seen a president flat-out and completely lie about incredibly easily provable facts. I will grant you that it’s easier now in the Internet age when we can Google something in but an instant — or, if you’re a journalist who cares about such things, spend five hours digging up verification before putting anything on fake paper. But there doesn’t seem to be any desire from this president to construct a narrative of anything but his own very vivid imagination. We’ve now lowered the bar so far — buried it, really, with an industrial drill — that it’s a given assumption that he has plenty to hide and probably plenty that’s legally questionable. Now we have to play out the waiting game for Robert Mueller to wade through such fecal matter and to determine if there is sufficient evidence to indict the President of the United States. It has become obvious that Trump is incapable of being shamed into resigning.
I and many of my brethren, from talking heads to watching heads, have commented for over a year that we live in frightening times. I’m not hoity-toity when it comes to morality: we define it for ourselves through our experience, our faith, our gut, our worldview. Nor am I, certainly, without significant faults. But I’m also not the president, nor will I ever be. Must a president be a “perfect” person, especially when morality is such a subjective thing?
Of course not. But we do have the right to a leader whose moral compass goes beyond “unindictable.” Just think about it. What will it take for America to reset its barometer?