I’m going to start where I began this whole journey. I grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the time when Donald Trump owned half of the city’s casinos. And what I observed of him during that time made it obvious that he was personally unfit to hold the Office of President of the United States. And while there are plenty of Monday morning (and actual) psychologists who have gone far beyond what professional prudence allows to try claim things about Donald Trump, I won’t. Instead I stand by an honest description of what was missing for the three decades he was uniquely influential in my community and the lives of my family members who worked in his casinos or the local civic institutions that supported them.
He never did anything that didn’t benefit him unless he was absolutely forced to under great scrutiny or legal action. He was patently dishonest about easily verifiable things. And he could point to no instances, I mean ZERO, where he made personal sacrifices for the greater good of anything. He’d never served anyone or anything, in 70 years on the planet. That last one is pretty hard to do.
These observations were made entirely outside any influence of politics. If anything, I see his consistency as a conservative advocate since entering politics as both surprising and positive.
None of these personal characteristics are uncommon in successful people. But they are deeply uncharacteristic of a leader of a large organization like the Federal Government of the United States of America. And deeply uncharacteristic of a head of state that has to have the minimum viable trust from people who do not align with him or her politically. We may have suspicions that our CEO’s and flag officers are sociopaths. But they at least have to fake not being one. Otherwise everything they do scares the daylights out of everyone except those they carry the ball for politically, which is never everyone. There is a minimum burden for the POTUS to keep the American people as one identity. Effective leaders do this well. Mediocre ones do it at least a little. But none purposely divide for personal gain without the chickens eventually coming home to roost. And roost they did.
There is no arc in the life of Donald Trump. Just a series of battles with obstacles that stood in his way. Some he won. Some he lost. But each episode started anew with no reckoning of fault for failure. And no sharing of credit for success. Despite four bankruptcies, abandoned buildings and a long line of unpaid creditors, he still thinks things went well in Atlantic City. That he won. And he’s not wrong, as long as you keep the scope of outcomes narrow enough to include him and his family.
The scope of POTUS, however, is not narrow. And it’s unique in politics in that there is nuance in the balance of forwarding political agendas and leading an actual functions for which the lives of hundreds of millions of people are impacted. There is no entirely subjective perspective on executive performance. There’s no way to lie one’s way out of it. And there’s no way to claim victory standing on top of the wreckage of the suffering and poor outcomes of your people.
As we learned over and over again these last four years, the space between what the President of the United States of America must do and what he or she should do is wide. Even if impeached, the POTUS is not likely to be removed. Even if the POTUS loses the election, he or she holds the keys to the government and unlimited access to the American people for months afterward. When the POTUS speaks, we have to listen. We can’t ignore it. There is no other role in the world like it. And you simply can’t have some people hold it. If you try, it gets clear why. We had it in for Donald Trump. He’s not wrong. But neither were we.
Before any of this happened, I could not reconcile the idea of conceding election defeat with what I’ve observed in the Trump machine. I couldn’t imagine what a concession speech would look or sound like. I tried. But the holes just don’t line up right. You can’t put it together. We still don’t have one. And we never will. And it will be a wound that festers in America long after he’s dead and gone.
Yesterday Donald Trump told his supporters at a rally to march down to the Capitol where the Constitutional process of counting the certified votes to declare the winner of the 2020 presidential election was playing out. They stormed the building and interrupted the process. Trump flags flew in the Capitol. Confederate flags were carried through the Rotunda. Four people died. America and the world watched as, for a brief time, it looked like the government of the United States of America was in question. Scenes of the failed governments through history, distant and those I experienced myself during my service, flashed through my mind.
And then it was over. And the process carried out.
A lot happened yesterday. Three things are now clear though:
The first is that the Capitol security failed. That’s an easy one to fix. We just do, like Americans can when we have to.
The second is that the American system of government worked. It survived Donald Trump. After a recess, Senators and Representatives returned to their posts and sounded like Americans again. In the Senate they pounded the table about the importance of the Constitution and their duty to uphold it. “Let’s get to work” said Vice President Pence, who should be remembered well for his part yesterday. Feckless, morally bankrupt politicians (we can have feckless morally bankrupt politicians, just not Presidents) showed themselves within the process and will be remembered for their whole lives what they stood for. But the system worked.
The third is that it became clear to anyone reasonable that Donald Trump is a failure as President. He’s been impeached. He’s eroded confidence in basic functions of government. His party has lost control of both chambers of congress and the White House. And he incited violence against his own government. We ought not get cute about that last one. He and his son and his attorney used language that was unambiguous. They screamed fire in a crowded movie theater. They own this. Save the false equivalency or distribution to a coalition of the unfavorable. Only one thing was different. And that’s Donald Trump.
There was no coup yesterday. Just the death spasms of a failed president who will live for generations as an example of the worst we’ve ever had. There’s no salvaging it. Not now.
Pray nothing happens these next few weeks. And pray Donald Trump is as close to invisible as he should be. There’s lots of smart political people with edgy takes about how it’s his party. And maybe it is. But he’s a loser right now. He lost every ounce of political power for his party for four years. And so if they want to keep on losing, then he’s your guy folks. But if they don’t, then maybe yesterday marks the time when we shake the folks off the fence. Like my friends who told me they only care about taxes and regulation. Or abortion. Or the ones who called me a liberal for telling them that guy can’t be president because they lacked the imagination to see yesterday.
For about two years, the term Never Trumper was thrown around in politics like an insult. I think it’s time to reconsider that and expand membership. It gives me no pleasure to have been right here. But there’s no denying it. I was. And so were many others.