As the Trump Era draws to a chaotic, subversive and long-overdue close, it is difficult to look back at it and pick those moments that best define it. Frankly, it is difficult to look back at it at all. But to spare you the effort, I will try.
It is difficult to select just a few signature Trumpian moments, because America’s outgoing leader holds so many (dubious) distinctions.
Donald Trump is undoubtedly America’s worst president, the only president to be impeached twice, the only person to lead a coup against the United States government, the president who presided over and was personally responsible for the greatest one year loss of life in American history, the only president since Herbert Hoover to actually leave office with fewer people employed than when he was sworn in, the only world leader to have been summarily banned from virtually all major social media sites because his words were so inflammatory, the most prolific liar if not conspiracy theorist in U.S. political history (which is saying something), a man who managed to be at once the most corrupt, the most odious, the most ignorant, the most ineffective and the most evil political leader in U.S. history.
Already polls of historians have him ranked at the very bottom of America’s list of presidents, which is saying something, since many of those presidents were also racists, misogynists, perpetrators of great crimes (from perpetuating slavery to overseeing genocide against indigenous Americans to ordering the first and only use of nuclear weapons in world history).
American presidents gave the world sex scandals and illegitimate children and the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq. They helped drive global warming and turned their back on refugees from foreign atrocities when they could have helped. Some of them were great. Most weren’t. And of all of them, Trump was the worst, the absolute bottom of the barrel.
As I have described at some length in my recent book, he was a traitor. This is not political invective. He actually worked with American’s foremost foreign enemy to help win election in 2016, and then he serially defended and rewarded that enemy and obstructed justice to hide the evidentiary trail of his efforts (and avoid punishment for them.)
But he also turned the U.S. government into his private piggybank, pumping millions of taxpayer dollars into properties he and his family owned. His cabinet set records for indictments and for turnover. He attacked our allies, buttered up autocrats, undermined America’s standing in the world and did I mention he actually led a coup attempt that led to five deaths, thousands being terrorized and next three people in the presidential line of succession being put in grave danger?
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Further, Trump was so many (awful) things, it is hard to pick the characteristics that define "Trumpiness." How do you find events that capture both his narcissism, nepotism and his greed, his stupidity and the damage he did?
Frankly, you shouldn’t even try. It’ll only give you a headache and remind you of some of the worst days in recent U.S. and world history. I know. That’s the effect it had on me.
But, here goes, the six Trumpiest moments of the shit-stormiest clusterfuck in U.S. political history are, in reverse order:
6. The Upside Down Bible Photo Op (June 1, 2020)
With America mourning the brutal murder of a Minneapolis man, George Floyd, at the hands of police, and protests breaking out from coast-to-coast protesting institutional racism in the U.S., Trump had a choice. He could seek to heal the nation or divide it.
Naturally, Trumpily, he chose to divide, once again playing to the white supremacists that he (rightly) saw as his political base. But his offensive and irresponsible choices did not stop there. With the assistance of his Attorney General, Bill Barr, and his top Pentagon brass, he mobilized U.S. federal forces to assault a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.
Even adding an attack on fundamental U.S. freedoms to his racism was not enough. To be a truly Trumpian moment, it would have to showcase both his broken personality, and his penchant for grotesque, empty pandering to the Evangelicals who had annointed and then excused and glorified him. In this case, he justified the attack as a way to clear a path for him to walk across the street so he could pose with an upside-down Bible to showcase his values. It did.
5. "I Really Don’t Care, Do You?" (June 21, 2018)
In a tribute to the degree to which Trump’s Trumpiness was a family enterprise, this incident involved a visit by First Lady Melania Trump to border facilities in McAllen, Texas at which the Trump Administration was holding children in cages, separated from their parents, as part of an immigration crackdown and border-crossing deterrence strategy.
The treatment of these children, several of whom died in custody and hundreds of whom have never been reunited with their families, has been rightly called a violation of human rights. To underscore her views, the Slovenian former soft-core porn model wore a coat that had emblazoned on the back the words, "I Really Don’t Care, Do You?" She didn’t. He doesn’t. That much is clear.
4. "Very Fine People On Both Sides" (August 15, 2017)
In the wake of violent protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia that claimed the life of one woman, President Trump initially refused to condemn the racist mob that triggered the unrest.
Finally, two days later, when pressed to comment, Trump chose to normalize the behavior of the neo-Nazi, alt-right, "militia" and Ku Klux Klan groups that marched chanting "Jews will not replace us," by equating them with the those who stood up to their provocations by saying that there were "very fine people on both sides."
Not surprisingly, his comments did not help. Nor were they the only time that Trump openly embraced racists, racists or ethno-nationalists.
Indeed, long before he became president, Trump had a history of being on the wrong side of these issues. He came by it naturally. His father was arrested at a 1927 Ku Klux Klan rally, the Trump Organization was pressured by the Justice Department to ban racist business practices and Trump famously pressed for the death penalty for the ‘Central Park Five’ – young black men who were arrested and pressured to confess to a rape and assault charge despite there being no DNA evidence tying them to the crime.
Trump began his campaign for president attacking Mexicans and Muslims, enacted a ban on Muslim entry into the U.S. shortly after he took office, fueled an immigrant invasion theory that motivated the perpetrator of the worst massacre of Jews in U.S. history, told minority Democratic Congresswomen they should "go back" to where they came from, instructed the far right Proud Boys to "stand by" during the last weeks of the 2020 campaign and told the racist mob that stormed the Capitol beneath a Confederate battle flag that they were special and that he loved them.
All these events were classic Trump. Because Trump is a classic racist.
3. "Russia, If You’re Listening…" (July 27, 2016 – now)
The original sin of the Trump Administration was Trump’s knowing collaboration with the Russian government to help win election in 2016. His collusion with Russia (and despite the worst efforts of the president and his supporters to spin it, the Mueller and Senate investigations both made it clear that there was collusion and plenty of it) cast a shadow over his whole presidency and drove many of his actions, from firing officials who sought to get to the bottom of it to bounteous rewards for his Russian helpers, notably the Kremlin’s big boss, Vladimir Putin.
In Helsinki in June 2018, Trump groveled before Putin, publicly accepting his smirking denials that he had nothing to do with Trump’s election while attacking and discounting the U.S. intelligence community.
When did it all begin? Trump scholars suggest it started in the late 80s when Trump first visited the Soviet Union along with his then-wife Ivana, whose father was a former informer for the Soviet-overseen Czech intelligence service. But Trump made it all public on July 27, 2016 when, during his campaign for president, he asked on live TV for Russia’s help in getting Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails.
As it turned out, they were listening. Trump would like to believe we were not.
2. "Maybe I Have Natural Ability" (March 6, 2020)
Although Trump had been warned by senior staff that the COVID epidemic would pose a major threat to the people of the United States as early as January 18 last year, and was in fact warned again at least ten times before March, the president chose to downplay that risk in a cynical calculus that it would help him politically.
On March 6, 2020, he visited the Center for Disease Control to show he had everything "under control." During that visit, he asserted that he had a special understanding of the science. He said: "I like this stuff. I really get it."
He referred to a "super-genius uncle" as the source of his incisive brainpower, a recurrence of his obsession with "good genes" and "good bloodlines." He added: “People are really surprised I understand this stuff. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability." He didn’t.
2020 saw the worst loss of life in U.S. history. The U.S. death toll from the disease is by far the highest in the world. Current estimates suggest that perhaps as many as half a million Americans have died of the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands more are expected to die in the months ahead. And tens of millions of Americans have been devastated by the economic consequences of this largely Trump-made catastrophe.
Estimates suggest that 50-90 percent of the deaths could have been prevented had Trump embraced a few common sense actions.
1. The Coup (January 6, 2021)
For months Trump, aided by GOP allies in Congress and the media, had perpetuated the lie that the November presidential elections had been "rigged," "stolen" by Joe Biden and the Democrats. He and his supporters tried every avenue they could to reverse the results, from filing specious court cases to attempting to intimidate state election officials into invalidating results.
Trump predicted that if the results were not reversed all Hell would break loose from his angry supporters. Then, he worked with those supporters to ensure exactly that happened.
When fraudulent legal and legislative efforts at sedition failed, Trump turned to violent ones. On January 6th, he told the crowd he would never concede, and urged them to “fight,” to march to Capitol Hill to deliver their anger: "You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength."
The result was the first major coup attempt in U.S. history. Five people died. Thousands were at risk. The seat of the U.S. legislature was ransacked. The president opined that his pre-riot incitement was "totally appropriate."
A week after the attempted insurrection, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump for a second time. True to his standing as America’s Gaslighter-in-Chief, the outgoing president responded in a video that, "No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence."
The list of dishonorable runner-up mentions is long. It ranges from his "love letters" to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and the bogus diplomacy that followed, to betraying the Kurds – staunch U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS, to campaigning via foreign policy goodies for Benjamin Netanyahu, from coddling the fascist-adjacent QAnon cult to tossing rolls of paper towels to victims of a deadly hurricane (and doing little else to help them) to hundreds of trips to play golf at his own resorts for which taxpayers footed the bill (estimated at over $150 million) to his famous "perfect call" with Ukraine which resulted in his first impeachment. Trump and Trumpiness are indeed hard to capture in just one or even a series of events.
What we do know is this, so long as Trump is alive there will be more such embarassments and outrages. But fortunately, after January 20th of this year, the cost to America and the world of each of them is likely to decline precipitously. And for that, at least, we can all be grateful.