We keep waiting for the dust to settle, but Donald Trump refuses to stop kicking it up. Although his ceaseless motion reveals more with every whirl, it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on right in front of us through all the grime. No doubt the effort is worth it. Determining what’s accurate with high precision is a worthwhile endeavor. Determining the reasons for his policies and pronouncements, the people most influential in his thinking, and the costs of his actions is critical to a righteous, small “d” democratic opposition. Provable, specific facts are the component parts of any indictments or articles of impeachment, and Trump’s totalitarian truthiness must be met with honest, ethical reporting. But in striving for the perfect truth, let’s not lose sight of the obvious. This lesson keeps popping up in a few critical, and often overlooked, ways. For even before we know the whole truth, we often know enough to distinguish right from wrong from immoral. Here are three obvious truths that appear to be getting lost in the distracting thrashing of the Trump administration.
Trump and his cronies have betrayed the United States in dealings with Russia.
This is the most noticeable example of the Trump obfuscation phenomenon. There is so much we don’t know about the Russia investigation and Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin, including some of the most important details. Did Trump personally coordinate his campaign messaging with Russia’s hacking and Wikileaking? Is Trump still beholden to Putin, and if so, why? And is Russian influence the reason Trump is undermining liberal democracy and the western order, or is it just one factor?
Yet, to admit current imprecision in assessing the Russia matter should not mean excusing those who continue to deny the painfully obvious: something is rotten in Trump Tower. Trump campaign aides Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort all had deep ties to the Kremlin and lied about them. Trump campaign surrogate and Attorney General Jeff Sessions met in secret with the Russian ambassador on multiple occasions during the campaign and then lied about it. Trump confidant Roger Stone tweeted about the John Podesta hack before the leaking began. Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner held meetings during the transition with a Russian banker and tried to set up a backchannel to Moscow outside the U.S. intelligence apparatus. After the inauguration, Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen, a man with deep ties to Russia himself, delivered a proposal from a Ukrainian lawmaker to Flynn to ease sanctions on Russia for invading Crimea. All the while Trump—in his only consistent position of his entire campaign or presidency—consistently has defended Putin and Russia and denied their involvement in influencing the 2016 election. Trump then pressured the FBI director to drop the Russia investigation before firing him when he refused to do so. And this description does not come close to a comprehensive summary.
So please. When the Senate Intelligence Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish their investigations, hold your applause for the congressional Republicans suddenly willing to criticize the President. What we now have is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing that strikes at the very heart of our national autonomy, even if we don’t yet know all the facts or what they mean. House and Senate GOP leaders know this (indeed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly asserted last June that he believed Trump was being paid by Putin!). And yet they persist in propping up a presidential mole. There should be no coming back from that betrayal.
Trump’s Enablers Deserve Scorn, Not Sympathy.
We don’t know for sure why Gary Cohn and Reince Preibus, Kellyanne Conway and H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, continue with this charade day in and day out. For some, their partisanship is no doubt blinding. Others are just complete morons. A few, like Dan Scavino, are mini-tyrants reveling in their newfound authority to bully and harass. And of course, it’s likely that power and prestige are hidden under healthy helpings of post-hoc rationalization. But it is true that we can’t peer inside the souls of these misguided miscreants.
So what? Sean Spicer is a goon. His motives are unclear but what he is doing is simply monstrous. He knowingly lies every day on behalf of a boss he knows is incapable of handling his own emotions, let alone a nuclear crisis. The creeping pity for Trump’s willing partners ignores the obvious. Spicer is doing this to himself. More importantly, he is doing this to America. His participation in the administration is inexcusable. While we shouldn’t be surprised if the political media boys-club gives Spicer a regular rotation on a comfy Sunday show to make banal broadsides against a new Democratic president four years from now, we shouldn’t acquiesce. None of these people should be allowed back in society—polite or otherwise.
Donald Trump was a monstrous choice for President of the United States.
Finally, let us not absolve those who gleefully hopped aboard the “Trump Train.” Whether they rejoiced in Trump’s Philistine act or wrapped themselves in the comforting lie of false equivalence, Trump voters elevated a man so hopelessly unsuited for the presidency that four months in, every day still feels surreal and nauseating. Again, it is true that despite the rampant leaks of embarrassing escapades, it is unclear how Trump’s executive management will ultimately affect the country. An incompetent staff and a malicious agenda will inflict damage, but the extent is still to be determined. But there will be damage. Trump is destabilizing the west and America’s place in the world while engaging in frighteningly authoritarian behavior. This is truly a self-inflicted national crisis.
Again, none of this was unexpected. Five days before the election, this space summarized Trump’s many manifestly disqualifying qualities, including that he is “deeply ignorant and unserious about national affairs, and has shown a complete inability and unwillingness to learn,” is a “reckless narciss[ist],” and is a “pathological, unrepentant liar.” Those were no keen insights; they were patent to anyone willing to see them (along with his racist agenda and misogynistic past and campaign). Yet nearly 63 million Americans either rejoiced in these features or rationalized them.
When all of this is over, if we survive it, we should not obfuscate or ignore the choices congressional Republicans, White House officials, and Trump voters willingly made. Their actions were reckless, selfish, hypocritical, and disastrous. And obviously so.