I’ve long argued that Donald Trump’s presidency will end poorly because he’s a person of bad character. I still think that’s true, though I very much doubt the impeachment trial now underway will result in his removal. Regardless of its outcome, his impeachment illustrates the damage that bad character can do to the presidency, the culture and the constitutional order.

In monarchies and other systems built around one-man (or one-woman) rule, the leader’s quirks, obsessions or inadequacies cease to be any of those things, instead becoming fashionable attributes of greatness. Bad jokes that emerge from his or her mouth become hilarious; rudeness, strength. Mispronunciations become fashionable locution. The story of Castilian Spaniards replacing the “s” sound with a “th” sound (“therveza” instead of cerveza) to accommodate King Ferdinand’s lisp is myth, alas (or “alath”). But the moral of the story stands.

We’ve seen something similar happen to large swaths of the GOP. Because Trump is unteachable about how the presidency and our constitutional system are supposed to work, politicians and media figures have dropped their long-held views on foreign policy, the national debt, trade and even the need for basic civility in order to get in sync with the president.

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally’s outburst on Thursday is just the latest example. When asked by a CNN reporter whether she’d support allowing witnesses at the impeachment trial, this once sober-minded politician called him a “liberal hack,” creating a viral social media moment perfectly suited for cable news preening and digital fundraising.

A new book by Washington Post reporters, “A Very Stable Genius,” recounts in alarming detail how early members of the Trump administration struggled to teach the president the rudiments of the job of commander in chief, only to be rebuffed as “dopes and babies” because they didn’t see our international alliances and military assets as an opportunity to turn a profit. Two years later, he’s surrounded by a coterie happy to let Trump be Trump.

The impeachment drama itself stems from the fact that no one can convince the president that the presidency is more than the whims, desires and ambitions of the person occupying the job.

Unfortunately, the responses from Democrats, much of the media and opponents of the president, although emotionally understandable, have often compounded the damage.

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Yuval Levin has written tellingly about the Trump era: “My rule of thumb … is that every scandal will proceed in whatever way is maximally damaging to public confidence in our core institutions. Each twist and turn and revelation will give everyone on all sides of our politics … just enough reason to believe that their side is in the right, the other side knows it but is corrupt, and the only way to get justice is to recognize that there is no alternative to stretching the norms and rules of our politics a little in this particular case.”

The Washington establishment’s rush to get ahead of the evidence on Trump’s unproven collusion with Russia; the constant exhortation that the only reasons someone might agree with Trump policies are racism, cultism or indebtedness to Vladimir Putin; and the often-voiced determination to impeach Trump before impeachable offenses had materialized might sound like brave resistance to those already converted. But to the unconverted, such rhetoric sounds like evidence of bad faith, warranting more bad faith in response.

Our problems with partisanship and polarization predate Trump’s election, but his presidency has been gasoline on a fire. Trump could have avoided impeachment countless times. Most obviously, he could have not done what he obviously did vis-à-vis Ukraine. Or he could have admitted his error, apologized and taken the steam out of the impeachment train’s boilers.

Instead, because of his low character, he opted to stand by his claims that his actions were “perfect.” As a result, Republicans must now further deform their character to accommodate his and scramble to protect themselves from hearing the truth at his impeachment trial, on the accurate but embarrassing pretext that the Democrats didn’t expose the truth the right way.

Trump could have avoided impeachment had he governed, from the start, as a servant of all Americans, whether they voted for him or not. But that option was no option at all, because his character would not allow it. Now we are plunging further into dysfunction because the presidency was never designed for a man who could not comprehend what it means to be presidential.

Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by email at JonahsColumn@aol.com.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

(51) comments

phydeaux994

A day by day, hour by hour in some cases, chronology of the quid pro quo conspiracy, with video clips, emails, text messages, Tweets, documenting every charge, the story told in one 8 hour episode, will be hard to defend. Only Jury Nullification by the Republicans can save DJ Trump. But it will happen at great cost to the Republican Party as it will be so obvious.

Comment deleted.
Jleftwich

The Republican Party died, January 21, 2020. On November 3rd, we bury them.

matts853

Trump should just simplify his campaign slogan to “Trump First!”

matts853

What’s happening in the senate is surreal. The republicans are acting in unimaginable bad faith: Trump’s lawyers blantantly lying about process, Republican’s ignoring obvious facts and resisting any attempts to hear more truth, blatantly violating their “solemn” oaths for impartial justice, and cowering to a president that NONE of them liked before he was elected. Getting re-elected apparently is job #1 for them. Power is ALL they care about. They don’t grasp the gravity of the moment and realize that perhaps now more than ever, the constitution needs a shot of adrenaline. They are laying the foundation to insubordination of all future presidents. They are giving up their power to stay in power. And the ones who are retiring are so delicate that they fear a juvenile tweet from an unpatriotic president who’s approval ratings are abysmal?! I truly never imagined our government could become this polarized. Truth, justice and the American Way is dead. Thank you Donald Trump and today’s feckless Republican Party.

awteam2000

“MidnightMoscowMitch” impeachment sham process;

- No witnesses

- No documents

- No testimonies

- No evidence

- No press

- No time

- No defense

- No fair trial

Clear coverup of Trump’s guilt! 🙈🙉🙊

des21

[yawn]

awteam2000

🙈🙉🙊. Go for it... Des21, You are welcome to your opinion and I hope you are open to mine... I only question your political theory... I’m assuming you are sharing an honest opinion... not lying but sharing your view point.

Trump won the last election by 77 thousand votes over 3 states, while he lost the popular election by 3 million votes. My view is that he needs to build his base, support, so more states are in play. With a booming economy, he hasn’t been able to do so. I question where you see growth in support that puts more states into play. I just don't see it.

I see a reckoning on the horizon and it’s not the Democrats, I see more of a view of it not going well for the “Trump Cult”. I may be naïve, but I still have faith in Americans recognizing a fraud.

I’m betting America won’t lower its standards to re-elected an Inhumane individual. But you could be right. So, I’m looking forward to your pontifications in November; why you were right, or right but wronged. You can go “nana, nana, nana, nana” to me. I’m a “big boy”, and can handle the out come. My principles and values won’t be compromised regardless who is president. Not lying 🤥.

des21

I honestly don't know what you are talking about. Is some one coming for members of the "Trump cult" if he loses? You may have just stated his best reason for reelection. We shall see aw, unlike many here, i don't care that much but I would rather not become a European style Welfare state. Given the opposition and the fact that, as of today, Trump defeats all Democratic challengers in the 6-8 battleground states, I like his chance. Having so many large states already in the bag before 1 vote is case Democrats always have a huge electoral advantage so, you're right, it is difficult for a Republican to win under the best of circumstances. While it is hard to imagine better economic circumstances than we have today, it is easy to imagine a better candidate so...……….we shall see.

awteam2000

“ Trump defeats all Democratic challengers in the 6-8 battleground states,” what are they? And which ones did he lose in 2016 that he’ll pickup in 2020?

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup]

des21

Trump remains wildly popular with the great unwashed majority of GOP members and remarkably unpopular with those who live within the DC bubble. Oh well. Obama promised us change and brought little, love it or hate it, Trump has certainly brought change! The Democrats have an almost 200 electoral college vote advantage to begin with and still manage to lose elections to this "man of bad character"? Remember when Democrats were all about being non-judgmental? I was a Democrat then. We were fun! Now they're a bunch of Puritanical woke scolds!) If the Democrats lose twice to this guy (which seems more and more likely) who are the idiots really? Trump is running a campaign in 6-8 purple states which will decide the election. Snowflakes like Jonah (who is usually wildly unpopular among this crowd unless he is bashing Trump- go figure, so is Comey, Giuliani's henchmen, Cohen, the list goes on and on) don't get it and never will. Trump is popular BECAUSE he tells the "know-it-all" establishment types to shove it. That's crude but so is America I guess. It doesn't make him evil or a man of bad character. It makes him a good judge of the political moment.

And BTW, seeking to change trade and security relationships that have abused us for decades is not nonsensical. It is exactly the appropriate response. If the Europeans don't like what we are doing, well, you can be sure we're on the right track. Zero real unemployment and retirees living off their portfolios which grow in size even as they take money out to live. We are going to vote for a Democratic socialist now? You're kidding right?

awteam2000

“Wildly popular”? Trump’s approval rating is somewhere between 41 and 38 percent — numbers that are underwhelming at best.

des21

Among Republicans? Look again.

DickD

aw didn't restrict it to Republicans, Dave! You did!

des21

Correct Dick. Is there a point to you observation?

des21

Nationally, according to RealClearPolitics his average is 44%. That's bad enough aw, no need to "lie."

awteam2000

Again, “Wildly popular “? “Lie”?

awteam2000

“Lie”? You - being a former political science professor - wouldn’t that be in the “margin of error”?

des21

I was being facetious aw but every time Trump misstates something it's a lie right? What 15000 now? Fair is fair...………..

threecents

So, if that is 10-fold too high, then he only lied 1500 times.

Henry_Avery

“Trump remains wildly popular with the great unwashed majority of GOP members.”

Like the members of Meal Team Six who show out in their cosplay regalia in Richmond? Real brain trust there. Didn’t even bother paying attention to the crux of the matter. And that is Trump’s game: keep ‘em stupid, and afraid.

des21

If you say so Henry. Just win baby.

des21

Were they involved in the gun rights rally that the Gov thought would require the National Guard? One arrest. Some Antifa woman who would not take her mask off. I tell you, you guys are right, the end of the world as we know it is right around the corner! [beam][yawn]

gary4books

"Even a blind pig can find an acorn." And Mr. Trump was elected. But since then his performance has been uneven and his statements truly despicable. Johna is no "snowflake" and has real Conservative roots. You really need to learn more about our trade deals. We were never the victim. We made out like bandits.

des21

I fundamentally disagree Gary- as do most Americans who at one time worked in manufacturing. You and I who work (ed) in high-end service industries "made out like bandits" because we could buy cheap imports. Our neighbors and their children and grandchildren went on the dole. Impressive win eh?

shiftless88

des; list five major differences between the "new" NAFTA and the "old" NAFTA that was the "worst deal in history". Also, please note that with China we are not yet back to where we were when Trump blew it up. And how much money have we sunk into that deal just to go backwards?

DickD

We are not where we were with Iran either and Trump has almost started WWIII.

DickD

Agreed. Despicable in many ways![thumbup][thumbup]

shiftless88

actually, des, I worry more about what Trump's nomination by the RNC means to our country than whether he or a Dem wins the next election. He was nominated despite a fairly strong cadre of serious people. I disagreed with many of them, but aside from a couple of them they were decent, hard-working, patriotic Americans and I would much prefer them over our current POTUS. The republican party is likely in trouble when he leaves politics. That doesn't bother me a whole lot, but I dislike the destruction of our political institutions that the current republicans have overseen.

des21

I think that, since Clinton, we've had two corporatist, globalist, free trade parties. It doesn't bother me much that Trump is making the GOP into an America first party stressing American exceptionalism. There are many Americans hungry for such a party- many of them non-white immigrants. It's why they came here after all. Someone with more finesse than Trump can stand to remake the party into a dominant institution for the 21st century while the Democrats continue to rely on glory stories from the mid-late 60s. That's a scenario I can easily envision and would welcome.

shiftless88

He is making the Republican party into one of white Christians and that's about it. Not immigrants, not people of color. He is exposing their core of deficit spenders, science deniers, and people willing to lie about anything to hold power. He has exposed their hypocrisy relating to Christianity and "the moral majority". He has turned them into demagogues.

des21

I think you are wrong shiftless and early polling supports me, not you. Trump's numbers among people of color and recent legal immigrants are better than any previous Republican (except for GWB's among Latinos.) If he wins a couple points, particularly among Blacks which I think is likely, he's got this thing sewn up.

Which of the democratic nominees excite people of color? Answer is none. Despite all the talk about "white supremacy" voters, I think this is going to be the best year for the GOP among people of color- perhaps ever. Wouldn't be the first time pundits have gotten it very wrong about this guy would it?

threecents

Good points Des. I think Jewish Democratic mostly are against some of Trump's dealings with Israel, as we generally do not like Netanyahu and want greater peace efforts, but we are afraid of the Squad and other progressives demonizing Israel. A more polished Republican might have a chance of luring away some Jewish Democrats and Independents if the Squad gets powerful. Right now The Squad is only powerful in the eyes of paranoid Republicans, who seem to be obsessed with them.

awteam2000

I wouldn’t want to say you are lying but misinformed. In terms of "total lack of knowledge”, Jews in America have by far the highest average education level of any group. Some 67% of Jewish adults are college graduates, far above the 32% of the overall population, and the 37% who have a postgraduate education is also much higher than among any other religious group. Not likely Trump supporters.

Also not surprisingly given their Democratic orientation, Jewish Americans are well below average in their approval of the job Trump is doing as president.

But more striking is that 83% of African-Americans feel that Trump is a racist and 90% would not vote for Trump under any condition. That’s a whole lot more voters in a projected swing states then Jewish Americans. Not to mention Hispanic, Islamic and Asian Americans are not quite fans of Trump.

des21

Clearly you and i look at very different sources of information aw. By all means please continue to believe your very optimistic projections. It worked so well for your side last time! Underestimating Trump is his second best weapon- the opposition being the first.[beam]

DickD

It will be a long time before Republicans regain all they will lose, after Trump. Tying their party to Trump is one of the dumbest things that they have ever done.

Dwasserba

Yes. People who felt neutral now won't vote Republican even if they like a candidate. Fool us twice, no.

Jleftwich

I am TRYING to see what it is that makes him that appealing. Case in point:

https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1220028297498759176?s=21

[rolleyes][rolleyes]

My dog is better at communicating.

matts853

Welcome to the latest edition of Deep Thoughts by Don Jon Trump....

Comment deleted.
DickD

We will see who is out of touch!

DickD

There is a nugget of truth to what you say, Dave. If Trump is re-elected we have a lot of dummies!

DickD

Good assessment of the crook in the White House.

matts853

Great article. Trump puts himself first in everything. There’s not a genuine bone in his body. He lies more than president in history. It’s shameful. Even people that don’t follow politics instinctively know this and I’ll bet they won’t check his box in November. People like Trump - their chickens come home to roost eventually.

awteam2000

Jonah must not have read the transcript. It was perfect!

threecents

That description - "Perfect" - will probably be in future history books. There will be dissertations on what Trump meant by it. I would title mine, "The Perfect Lie" because I think that is what Trump meant by it.

gary4books

Your comment, three, is perfect. My title would be (of the transcript) "The Perfect Evidence."

threecents

Gary, In ten years people will tell stories of when they first heard about the transcript. For me that even overshadows the moment when I heard McCain picked Palin as his vice presidential candidate. I remember looking her up on Wikipedia, and my jaw just dropped.

phydeaux994

Amen Amen three, I knew that guaranteed a Democratic victory. A punch in the gut for me.

matts853

I like a Biden/Klobuchar ticket, or Bloomberg/Klobuchar. They can beat Trump. Warren and Sanders are dinosaurs and Mayor Pete can’t get the minority vote or any far right conservatives who are secretly disgusted with Trump. Klobuchar is impressive but doesn’t have the name recognition to win the primary this time. Giver her 4 years under Joe (who probably wouldn’t run for a 2nd term having done his patriotic duty in defeating the most unfit president we’ve ever had) or 8 under Mike and then give her the reins. Moderates like her should be the standard barer of the Democrat Party. And unless someone sane ever emerges from the republican swamp again, I’m fine with moderate Democrats in control. This isn’t your father’s America anymore, Republicans. We can’t continue with a fossil fuel economy because we’re killing the planet. That reason alone is enough for me vote Democratic. I don’t fear “socialism” because this isn’t a dictatorship (except for the time being) and when proper checks and balances are restored, we will be ok. Most of all I look forward to a healthy and clean planet. Reinventing the economy will bring better propsperity and health across the board. The nation is increasingly diverse and that’s not going to change. The Republican Party is too anachronistic to survive as is much longer.

threecents

Matt, Good point that Biden or Bernie - the two front-runners would need to pick a very strong running mate, like Klobuchar, rather than some young unknown with potential.

threecents

Bloomberg too, but I don't think he will do well in the primaries.

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