When Donald Trump rode down that golden escalator in June, 2015 and announced he would run for President of the United States, the guffaws could be heard round the world. What a colossal doofus! A shady real estate mogul, a beauty pageant owner, a dubious celebrity famous for firing people, saw himself as the perfect person to fill the highest job in the land. Clearly the run would be short-lived and hilariously inept. In his long history as a famous figure, there was not a moment spent in public service. No sign that he knew a thing about governing or world affairs. No sign that he even cared. What on earth would qualify him?
The closest he had ever come to government involvement was when he pretended he had proof positive our then-sitting president, Barack Obama, was born in Africa, making him illegitimate and unfit to serve. It turned out, of course, to be a lie, but the fact that the lie would not die energized Trump and gave him the idea that he of all people might just be able to pull that president thing off.
He blustered his way through a long campaign that put him in front as the fiery populist against a rigid, anachronistic loser of an establishment. Along the way he discovered the benefits of the religious right, a gun culture based on fuzzy Second Amendment logic, fears fueled by right wing talk radio and Fox News of a rogue government, and a work force desperate enough to want to believe a slimy billionaire known for stiffing underlings could be their messiah.
The seduction of screaming crowds hooked him but good. From that first rally forward he would do whatever he had to do to win. He knew he had to give lip service to the needs of the country, but it would always be Trump first, cronies second, and the country a distant third.
He saw early on that his crowds loved him most when he dropped his billionaire mantle and pretended to be one of them. He took to wearing flaming red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps. He developed a rumpled look, used superlatives like "beautiful, fantastic, the greatest", and made promises he could never keep about what he and he alone would do if elected.
He waged war against the press, a known fascist tactic, and the press, to our surprise, didn't fight back.
But his ace-in-the-hole turned out to be Hillary Clinton, a far more qualified candidate who, after years of attacks from both the left and the right, was waging an uphill battle. Just as Trump had pressed for Obama's birthplace illegitimacy with no basis in fact, he took to calling his opponent--without a shred of evidence--a crook. He built a flimsy case based on a handful of errant emails and rejoiced when his crowds took to chanting "lock her up!"
He found he could say anything and his followers would buy it. He was eerily on to something when he said "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn't lose any voters." He knew his people far better than we did.
And then the thing happened that was so far-fetched no one but a few observant pundits would have believed it: Donald Trump became president of a country that had long warned against creeping fascism and the threat of oligarchy. His mission was to take apart a government based on constitutional regulations and social constructs, and now he was on his way. His motto and guiding principal is as he said soon after taking office: "I'm president. I can do what I want."
Did the Russians have a hand in attempting to alter our election? Of course they did. Could Trump surround himself with any more Russian operatives? Yes, he could and probably will. A country that once saw Russia as our enemy now embraces a president who cannot and will not condemn them. In time, we'll find out why. We will follow the money and find out why. But in the meantime, who are these people with access to our most sensitive secrets? Top security clearances go to anyone Trump wants in the room. The vetting process--a process once seen as serious and inviolate, with a threat of jail for lying on security clearance applications--is another in a long list of obligatory regulations meant only for other people.
Already, less than a half-year in, the Trump administration is embroiled in scandals of a magnitude far beyond anything we could imagine that night we gasped at the realization that this vicious, egotistical, supremely unqualified man-child would be leading our country. The scope of scandal is breathtaking, even at this early stage, and it promises to get worse.
And now Donald Trump has taken his Ugly American act outside our borders, showing the rest of the world what a terrible choice we've made. In every country he has visited--Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, Belgium--he is an embarrassment, an object of ridicule, a preening, ignorant, crude representation of the worst of us.
He is our first un-American president. Americans now have to decide what that means and how we'll deal with it. Our true character is being tested and the fate of our nation depends on the course we take. Trump may see our presidency as a joke, and Washington as his playground, but we've struggled too long and too hard as a country to become Donald Trump's willing foils. No matter what he says, he just isn't worth it.
(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars)