Donald Trump is turning out to be Richard Nixon, but worse. He has all of Nixon’s bad qualities, with none of his redeeming qualities.
Nixon was crazy, but he was smart. He had served in Congress and two terms as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, our last responsible Republican president. He understood how government in the United States is supposed to work, and likely believed that he was serving the best interests of the republic with his nefarious deeds as president. He was just a megalomaniac.
He was also a cold warrior, which is likely an important source of his insanity. From shortly after the end of World War II until the Soviet Union collapsed, they were our supposed mortal enemies, competition with whom justified nearly any stupidity in the name of U.S. foreign policy.
Crazy as they were, cold warriors mostly operated according to established customs of foreign policy and diplomacy, or, when they abandoned those customs, they relied on covert operations to do so and knew they were abandoning the customs of foreign policy.
Trump is totally off the chain. First, the Ukraine call that prompted House Democrats finally to begin an impeachment inquiry shows that Trump does not understand that the nation’s business is, or should be, distinct from his personal business and that he should not try to mix the two. He may well have conducted his personal business as he conducts the business of being president, but other business leaders had the option of refusing to do business with him, and he mostly hurt himself, as we know from his multiple bankruptcies.
As president, he is inescapable to the citizenry of the republic. His stupid decisions have an impact on millions of people, usually people who are the least able to resist. He is less inescapable, but still can have significant impact on people overseas, as the president of Ukraine learned once Trump decided he needed to pursue a personal vendetta against that nation.
But, with Trump, there is no bottom, so now he continues to pursue his personal vendetta by asking for help from anyone he thinks might have useful information, embarrassing the republic in the eyes of our closest allies in the process. It turns out that, in Trump’s imagination, as metastasized through “conservative” conspiracy theorists, Ukraine is not really an ally, since he has the bizarre idea in his head that persons in Ukraine were somehow involved in opposing his candidacy for president. Now he has fallen back on the British as a promising source of dirt on Robert Mueller and his recent investigation into his various misdeeds.
One British official said, “they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services.” This is profoundly stupid in a very Trumpian way. We have far more intelligence capacity than we really need, but whatever flaws our intelligence personnel have, insufficient or inadequate information is not one of them. The British have no particular interest in helping Trump. He cannot conceive of persons or events in any terms other than how he can use them to his personal benefit. British government officials, in the main, like most U.S. government officials, outside the Trump orbit, like Lt. Colonel Vindman, who testified in the impeachment inquiry recently, are primarily interested in serving their countries and want to advance the best interests of their nations. Helping Trump does not contribute to those goals.
They know they can’t trust Trump with sensitive national security information. They also know, or strongly suspect, that he is full of shit in trying to discredit Mueller, a man with a much higher reputation for integrity than Trump or any of his toadies. They know Trump will not be president forever and do not want to risk their long term intelligence capacity to help him. They’re not going to help Trump.
And, in procedural terms, by asking the president of Ukraine for help directly, or by sending Attorney Specific Barr on trips to Italy to chase conspiracy theories, Trump and his toadies depart from the customs of foreign policy, including established procedures for sharing classified information, which few foreign nations will want to depart from because those procedures have the purpose of allowing nations to share some secret information without sharing too much. Lack of respect for those procedures is already suspect. When the person who lacks that respect also has a well known history of blabbing secrets to adversaries, obviously no one will continue to share information with him.
Nixon proved to be a horrible president, but he was smart enough to resign when it became obvious that the jig was up. Trump is far too stupid to figure that out. We’re stuck with him until either he commits some crime that is so obvious and harmful that even his Republican toadies in the Senate decide they are willing to remove him, or he loses the election in 2020.
All we can do is hold tight and try our best to protect the people he will harm or try to harm in the interim.