AUG. 18, 2017 — We’ll state from the outset that we are deeply distressed by our president’s cynical political calculations. By his meanness of tone and erratic behavior. By his serially insensitive reactions to the violent white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that has stained America and hurt many Americans.
If he’s looking around, the man now finds himself increasingly isolated. But President Donald Trump probably isn’t leaving office anytime soon. And he isn’t likely to change his personality or modus operandi. So America will have to deal with this bizarre, unfortunate presidency as it exists, rather than as we wish it to be.
That puts the onus on Congress, on Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence, on responsible Cabinet members and administration officials, and on other adults who can challenge and counter him as necessary. They should proceed with the nation’s business, understanding that Trump may be more a distraction than a guiding force.
To the extent other leaders step up, America will be better off. The people’s interests will continue to be served. Legislation will get passed. The country will remain safe and American values will be protected. The courts, too, will continue to play their role, preserving the integrity of our democracy. Perhaps the best we can hope for from Trump during this time is that his golf game improves.
It’s an odd situation with little precedent. President Woodrow Wilson’s incapacitating stroke led to his wife and staff running the White House. But Trump’s affliction is different. The president now completing his seventh month in office is not emotionally fit for the job. He is rash and reckless. He cannot be trusted to lead the nation because he can’t see beyond self-interest or self-gratification.
Last year Trump electrified a movement and won an election. But he fails a fundamental test of character. He can only be trusted to represent his base of supporters. That could have made him a competent member of the U.S. House, but it’s a disastrously narrow mindset for a president.
Two significant examples of Trump’s impaired judgment and disregard for others were his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his divisive reactions to the white supremacy rioting in Charlottesville.
Both of those actions were potentially dangerous to the country’s stability. But both instead elicited responses that reflected the best traditions of American democracy and the American people.
Trump fired Comey, who was leading the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, because he hoped doing so would scuttle the probe. Instead, the Justice Department assigned the case to special counsel Robert Mueller, whose work continues. The president can rail against the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or pick fights with Congress, which is conducting its own investigations, but he can’t breach the Constitution.
The forceful political reaction to Charlottesville also has boxed in the president. He hurt many Americans by failing to call out the neo-Nazis, Klan members and other racists who marched and fought in support of a Confederate statue. Their presence instigated the violence by espousing views that contradict everything America represents. Trump gave them validity.
But when the president was slow to find the right words, the country didn’t remain silent. Many other prominent voices, including Republican leaders, offered the reassurance Trump failed to provide.
Members of Congress protested. CEOs quit the president’s advisory groups. And a Justice investigation of the deadly car attack in Charlottesville will proceed.
If Trump continues to misunderstand history, and his rightful duties, other Americans should keep stepping forward. Our country deserves a president with strong moral fiber, excellent judgment and dignity. But we may have to get by without one.