According to historian Shelby Foote, after Abraham Lincoln promoted General John Pope to head the Army of the Potomac in 1863, a detractor told Lincoln you couldn’t trust Pope as he was a liar and a braggart. Lincoln reportedly agreed and said he knew that Pope was both a liar and a braggart but saw "no particular reason why those abilities would preclude Pope from being a good general."
The same could be said for President Donald Trump. Trump is hardly the first to be seen as a braggart or a liar. Washington’s enemies thought him to be a demagogue. Lincoln was seen as a devil by the Democrats who made up the South. So Trump, while a well-known liar and braggart could also be a good president.
The potential is certainly there. But to be fair, it should be noted that if we carry the analogy to its logical conclusion, know that Pope went on to lead the North to a devastating defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and Lincoln thus learned that being a braggart and a liar may be part of what makes a general, but having only those attributes spell disaster.
And that’s where many see us with President Donald Trump—a man who is both braggart and liar and not much else. Over the weekend, former FBI Director James Comey said in an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos that the president lacks the moral fiber or is “morally unfit” to be our president. Comey pointed to allegations about the way Trump treats women, Trump’s statement in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riot and Trump’s casual attitude toward telling the truth as support for his conclusion.
Trump? He continues to say his detractors are on a witch hunt. He is wounded, aggrieved and insulted and continues to tweet and have his surrogates claim Trump’s “not guilty of collusion,” which may or may not be so. But it is true the United States seems as divided now as it was during the Civil War, and it also may be true that life in the United States hasn’t advanced much since the Salem Witch trials that Trump likes to reference nearly every day.
As the character John Winger said in Stripes, “We’re mutants.” We are the wretched refuse and our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. Americans were traditionally the underdog. We’re mutts with cold noses. We’re not the rabid dog. We’re the lovable mutt. And yes, everybody cried when Old Yeller got shot.
Still, Americans also created the Red Scare and the Klu-Kluxers. In other words, if you want to get nasty about it, we’re a nation of idiots like those who screamed “she’s a witch!” and we’re engaged in a political conundrum as divisive as the Civil War. Everything in politics today illuminates our widening political schism. Trump is an angel. Trump is a fat Satan. Trump is a minor local television celebrity who dresses up as an evil clown and appears in local used car commercials.
Guns should be cheap and plentiful—especially high-powered semi-automatic assault rifles. Guns should be melted down and their owners shot.
Abortions are the work of the devil. Abortions save lives.
Kill those who’ve killed. Thou shalt not kill. It’s okay to kill sometimes if the state sanctions it and I don’t have to push the button.
Me too! Women don’t know their place. Somebody chill. The Hell with you! Oh the Hell with you too!
When Comey sat down for a five-hour interview with ABC, it appeared to some, including an administration official I’ve known for years, that Comey was trying to make amends.
I get tired of quoting a comic strip, but Walt Kelly had it right when Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The president, during his time in office, has done little if anything to end the schism. He has in fact promoted it as he tweets insults that violate the NFL's “no taunting” rule with language you wouldn’t accept from a child who has surpassed the age of reason.
Perhaps Trump never advanced to the age of reason. I’d like to say for sure, but he makes himself increasingly scarce as do those who represent him—thus it’s hard to say for sure. The rare interaction with the press corps toiling to cover this cesspool of an administration along with his limited interaction with the rest of the world often leaves us only with Trump’s daily Twitter litter of inane gibberish by which to decide what our government is doing, what the president means and how mature and rational he is, was or may be on any given random minute.
This is hard to do in the 280 characters allotted in a tweet—even if you’re an exceptionally gifted writer—which the president most certainly is not. “Slippery James Comey,” the president tweeted early this week as if he were writing a dirty limerick, “a man who always ends up badly and out of what (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history.”
That’s a Trump tweet. Now compare it to what could be a Lincoln tweet: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
When Comey sat down for a five-hour interview with ABC, an hour of which was aired and the remainder of which was released as a transcript, it appeared to some, including an administration official I’ve known for years, that Comey was, in addition to promoting an upcoming book, trying to make amends “because he thinks he’s responsible for putting us in office,” my source said. “I wish my boss was as moral.”
In other words, Comey may be suffering from a guilty conscience. Whether he is or isn’t there is no indication Trump has ever had such a malady nor would he recognize its symptoms any more than he’d recognize yellow fever or the plague should he contract those rare diseases. For a conscience seems beyond Trump’s character.
Does Trump care? I don’t know. Probably not. I visit the White House three to four days a week. I work the beat meeting with members of the administration, Congress and the Justice Department trying to find out what is really going on and trying to understand what the president thinks. It says something that our president feels more comfortable tweeting than answering questions.
It speaks volumes that he’s never stepped foot into his own press room for a news conference and in fact has only had one solo news conference during his time in office. The American electorate, for the sake of the Republic, has to move beyond Trump. Comey said he didn’t want to see Trump impeached because it was a cheap way out for the American public. Comey urged greater involvement in the system, better candidates and greater education in order to avoid electing any more like Trump.
Whether or not you love or hate Trump or Comey, surely no one would argue with a better educated, more active electorate producing better candidates. But in a country happy with hanging supposed witches while bragging and lying about it, do not expect anything better. Remember your Pogo and remember this: Donald J. Trump is not an aberration to the system. He is the epitome of it. And the Mueller investigation continues.