Kryptonite, as any kid in the United States knows, is the only substance that caused weakness in Superman, and has since come to mean, colloquially, any substance that uniquely serves to undermine an individual’s power.
Donald Trump is a crazy, stupid pathological liar who has achieved some fame and power only because he grew up with a rich father, from whom he inherited a fortune. He plainly does not understand the details of the U.S. Constitution, or even what a constitution is or why anyone would want to have one. He is remarkably ignorant of basic principles of law and legal procedure.
As a candidate and as president, his one notable feature has been his amazing willingness to ignore every rule and norm of decent, humane conduct for political leaders, making up demeaning nicknames for his opponents, paying off porn stars whom he has had sex with, eagerly seeking harmful information about an opponent from a foreign government, and accepting foreign contributions to his inaugural events, just for starters.
The report from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller does tell us what human quality acts as kryptonite to Trump’s total lack of regard for moral principles.
Trump is still guilty of obstruction of justice, even though his most egregious obstruction, firing Mueller from his position as special counsel, never came to pass. We now know he tried to do so repeatedly. What stood in his way was the commitment to ethical norms of their professions in people who worked for him.
White House counsel Don McGahn, acting in a manner consistent with the rules for attorneys in the United States, refused to take steps to fire Mueller. After the story of Trump’s demand and McGahn’s refusal became public, Trump repeatedly told McGahn to deny the veracity of the story publicly, which McGahn also refused to do.
McGahn, that is, acted with integrity. He chose, prompted only by his own conscience, to defy an order from his employer, the most powerful person in the world, refusing to perform an unethical, likely illegal act despite the command to do so from the President of the United States.
That’s Trump’s kryptonite.
Trump has no idea what to do with a person who chooses to act according to a set of ethical norms. He doesn’t understand the concept. He is like a three year old in that he thinks he should immediately get or do whatever he wants to have or do at any given moment, and throws tantrums when he cannot.
McGahn is a partner at the large law firm Jones Day, which had represented the Trump campaign in the past. The campaign has now hired a lawyer to work directly for it, which is supposedly a cost cutting choice.
There is, however, ample evidence to suggest that the campaign reduced significantly its reliance on Jones Day because Trump is angry at McGahn. It is typical of Trump to be entirely unable to appreciate how McGahn’s refusal to fire Mueller was both legally and ethically correct, but also politically astute. No doubt Trump is unaware of the huge backlash that met Richard Nixon when he fired the first Watergate special prosecutor in an incident that has now entered our political vocabulary as the name for a particularly outrageous, indefensible action by a powerful person, the Saturday Night Massacre.
Trump could not recognize McGahn’s integrity at the time, nor how it helped him, and he still cannot recognize it even now.
The integrity of Trump’s staff helped him avoid more serious crimes than the ones he still managed to commit. With any luck, the integrity of members of Congress will have the effect of removing Trump from office, as soon as possible.