A recent exchange with a friend who is a Trump supporter astonished me. I had written on the importance of defeating Trump in November. My conservative friend invited me to join other socialists in Venezuela and leave his country alone. And he condemned the focus on defeating Trump, who he affirmed as the greatest president in our history.
Greatest president? In my book, Trump is in the running for the worst, along with such luminaries as James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes and Warren Harding. How have we reached the point where judgments can diverge so completely?
I will make a few observations on how Trump has achieved this level of enthusiastic support, but I’ll have to leave it to Trump’s supporters to fully explain why they think he’s so great. I’ll focus on why I think he’s so objectionable and indeed dangerous.
It is striking that Trump has built a solid base of enthusiastic supporters, like my friend, and has made no serious effort to expand that base. He has about 40 percent of the electorate and he continually appeals to them, mobilizes them, feeding their grievances against the rest of the country: blacks, immigrants, feminists, gays, educated people, the list goes on. He polarizes, demonizes. When presidential duties require him to pull the country together, he can’t do it spontaneously: he has to read from a script.
His very hyper-urban, superrich persona, reaching out to them, saying what they’ve been saying among themselves, this reaffirms that they are important, that they matter.
But what has he actually done for his base to elicit such devotion? We can point to a relatively healthy economy with low unemployment. But I think that misses the point. He validates them. His very hyper-urban, superrich persona, reaching out to them, saying what they’ve been saying among themselves, this reaffirms that they are important, that they matter. His many impulsive actions, often going against his own advisers, feed the narrative that he shakes things up. No evidence of incompetence or corruption from the “fake news” media can get through.
So what I say here won’t convince any Trump supporters of anything but my villainy, but I will explain why I think he is among our worst presidents.
Trump is spectacularly, prolifically, compulsively mendacious, and visibly corrupt (like profiting from government and corporations that hope to curry favor by staying in his hotels). His blatant misogyny, his alleged history of sexual assault, his manifest disdain for people of color are a disservice to our country.
He presses the limits of his legal authority (like declaring an emergency to reassign funds for his border wall), and equates his own political interest with that of the country (as in Ukraine). Many of his foreign and defense decisions (like the abrupt and capricious decision to pull troops out of Syria) are stunning in their incompetence and their damage to American interests abroad.
His denial of global climate change, and insistence on rolling back environmental regulations, is perverse, petty and stupid. Its consequences will roll through generations of the human population, not to mention the rest of our threatened environment.
It is malicious, and a violation of international human rights law to deny asylum to people with a credible fear of death or injury and to force them to seek refuge in the very countries that they are fleeing.
The Mueller Report amply documented that he tried to obstruct justice. That’s a crime. And by refusing to furnish documents and refusing to permit his subordinates to testify before Congress, he is obstructing Congress in the exercise of its constitutional duties.
Then there is Ukraine. Trump pushed Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden and his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden. He held up legally appropriated aid to an ally to help his own political fortunes. He undercut his own official foreign policy and helped Russia, our declared adversary. He undermined our national security for personal gain.
Trump is not our best president; he is among our worst. Best or worst, he will be among our most consequential.