Some of President Donald Trump’s detractors regard him as an object of ridicule to be laughed at and dismissed as a narcissistic, bombastic, uncouth showman, totally lacking in class.
Trump may be all that. But there is nothing amusing about him.
This president may well be the single greatest threat to our constitutional form of government and the rule of law to have ever occupied the White House. Considering our traumatic national experience with President Richard M. Nixon, that is saying something.
Trump is hellbent on overriding long-standing constitutional controls over the arbitrary exercise of executive powers.
Undermining freedom of the press is a case in point.
In the first months after Trump’s inauguration, I blogged that there is a “strategic calculation” in his war on the media. I indicated it would be a mistake to treat his Twitter attacks and “fake news” charges as simply the juvenile behavior of a 71-year-old president stuck in his adolescent years.
Regarding the media as a dangerous adversary, a cold and calculating Trump set out to bring it down in the public eye. “His aim is to denigrate the work of the media so that our reporting and analyses are summarily dismissed by the public, regardless of the evidence,” I wrote at the time.
Branding us as the “most dishonest human beings on earth” and “scum” were not “off-the-cuff invectives,” I wrote. There was a method in his madness.
Trump had already shown his hand, we now learn, in an interview with broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl conducted during the last presidential campaign.
Stahl, interviewed by “PBS NewsHour’s” Judy Woodruff at a journalism award event in May, said she asked Trump in July 2016 why he was attacking the press over and over, and whether he planned to stop doing it. Stahl said Trump responded, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
That calculation later figured into Trump’s pre-inauguration attacks on the U.S. intelligence community, questioning their motives and abilities. It was no coincidence that these attacks occurred as the intelligence services were looking into Russian interference and influence in our presidential election. Branding them as incompetent was designed to weaken their credibility and inoculate Trump from any suggestion that his campaign was under foreign influence.
Likewise, Trump’s incessant degrading of the special counsel and the FBI has a clear strategy. Belittle. Question motives. Plant the idea that Robert Mueller III’s investigation is a “witch hunt” fueled by Democrats still stinging from defeat in the presidential election.
Trump is waging war on institutions of government - the Justice Department, federal investigators, members of Congress, any and all who pose a threat to what he wants to be: America’s unchallenged ruler.
That aim is what sets Trump apart from other modern-day presidents. It comes through in the way he comports himself. In his view, he has no equal, there is none grander. No one in the world is more deserving of adulation and approval.
We now know, if we didn’t before, that Trump is a compulsive liar. He is emotionally abusive to those around him - Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
His toleration for criticism, nil; his store of empathy, empty.
Instead of the admiration he richly deserves, he’s being victimized by his own government - at least, he is in his own mind.
Which gets us to the threat that Trump poses.
Unlike Nixon, if Trump - or his clan or campaign - is confronted with wrongdoing, this president will not go away quietly.
Trump has made it clear that the law, evidence and the criminal-justice system mean little to him if they conflict with his interests.
This is not a wish. But the prospect of Trump legally on the spot should be viewed with trepidation. He believes, I fear, that authority over his fate rests solely with him.
The rule of law could soon be at stake. There’s nothing the slightest bit funny about that.
Colbert I. King is a columnist with The Washington Post.