When Donald Trump became President, many people, including my father (who did not vote for Trump) comforted themselves with the thought that upon becoming President the weight of the office would make him more mature, more serious minded, more Presidential. “The man doesn’t make the office, the office makes the man”, my father said over the phone in our first conversation after the election. For him and me it was the hope that the worst alternative would turn out to not be quite as bad as we thought. I comforted myself with the knowledge that Trump’s stance on various issues, namely abortion and gay rights, had been relatively liberal in the past prior to his becoming a Presidential candidate. Perhaps after being elected he would stop posturing to get votes from the Republican base and act on his own historically more liberal beliefs, I thought. Those who voted for him but weren’t fond of his less than Presidential demeanor hoped like my father did, that the office would make the man.
Nearly seven weeks into his Presidency we see no signs of his un-Presidential way of doing things slowing down. Recent twitter accusations by Trump against former President Obama that he had Trump’s phone lines tapped during the election have yet to find any basis in fact anywhere in America’s vast intelligence community. Some have perceived this, with good reason, as a tactic of Trump’s to distract from the scandal involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions, specifically Sessions’ failure to disclose (or to tell the truth) during his confirmation hearings that he did indeed meet with a Russian government official during the Trump campaign (Sessions was an early supporter and surrogate for Trump). Trump’s accusation against Obama, though possibly strategic in nature, is nonetheless an outright lie, another in a long line of lies, charades, breaks with tradition, words that directly contradict his actions, unsavory insults, you name it.
So how and why, instead of getting better, is Trump actually getting worse? Well, why do most of us not do the sorts of things Trump is doing? We all have a conscience to one degree or another to be sure, but another thing that keeps us from lying, being hypocritical, bullying others to get our way, etc., is the fear of consequences. No one wants to be caught lying or put in the corner of the classroom because we were misbehaving. We all learned to behave ourselves and respect others in part because there were consequences if we didn’t do those things. Consequences teach us invaluable lessons.
Trump has not learned those lessons. He’s never had to. In addition to growing up in a wealthy family, once his father gave him the money he used to start his business empire and managed to achieve some success on his own, Trump has used that money and that success to insulate himself from any and all consequences. If he got sued by a disgruntled contractor, he had the money and the lawyers to sue them back and either win the case or keep appealing the case until his foe couldn’t afford the legal bills any more. If a business failed, he could file for bankruptcy in such a way and/or use various legal loopholes made possible by his accountants and lawyers that he would barely lose any money at all, and perhaps even make money in some cases. Failure and being mean to other people never hurt him. He literally couldn’t lose. Even when faced with divorce and accusations of marital rape, he has been able to wriggle out of paying any meaningful price for any of it. During the campaign Trump literally said he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose a single voter. Then there was the tape of him from 2005 bragging about being able to sexually assault women with total impunity.
And after all of this and much much more, rather than being punished for these infractions, he was rewarded with the Presidency. After decades, nearly a lifetime without any real consequences, a life that taught him he could do whatever he wanted without paying the price, Trump had now been given the ultimate reward for his brash, “I’m untouchable” attitude. The victory itself seemed to be a mandate from the people reaffirming his belief that he could do whatever he wanted. Now with the legitimacy of the Presidency and the Republican Party behind him, Republicans, White House staff, and even some voters defend him and make excuses for him, and when worst came to worst, Trump can in some cases get his way with an executive order or distract from a scandal by telling lies no one will hold him accountable for anyway. It’s no wonder then that his behavior has only gotten worse and not better like so many of us hoped.
Trump has never learned that the words you say and the things you do have consequences. Because for him they never have. Unfortunately for the American people and the people of the world, his words and actions now have consequences for all of us. Whether or not his words and actions will catch up with him in the long run is up to congress and the American people.