President Trump has profited greatly from an electorate with the attention span of so many fruit flies.
Before the election, and with much fanfare, President Trump sent "his people" to investigate Barack Obama's long form birth certificate. Later, he announced they were working hard in Hawaii and we "won't believe it" when we see their report.
We are still waiting.
In August of last year, candidate Trump was responding to allegations that his wife, Melania, worked in the U.S. in 1995 when her visa status did not allow her to work. I don’t blame him for being a little hacked off when the issue came up because of a nude photo shoot from 1995.
I don’t care for trying to make politics out of nude photos. The relevance escapes me. But the issue was not about Melania so much as about hypocrisy on Trump’s part, since he was advocating dire consequences for the very conduct in which his wife allegedly engaged.
President Trump promised a news conference the next week where he would produce documents debunking the reports, and claiming “She has got it so documented.” The press conference never happened and the documents were never produced.
When the issue did not go away, the Trump campaign released a letter from a lawyer hired by the campaign who claimed to have examined the documents never released to the public. The lawyer hired for the purpose concluded that we should move right along, there is nothing to see, and everything is in order.
By November, even Fox News was reporting that Melania Trump worked in the U.S. without a proper visa and therefore would have been deported if Trump had the policies he was advocating.
During this entire silly season, going back to the Republican primary, President Trump said he could not release his tax returns because he's under audit but he will release them as soon as the audit is over.
The IRS, of course, can't say whether or not there is in fact an audit, but not making returns under audit public is a defensive legal gambit, not a legal requirement.
This month marks a year since Trump promised to prove that his tax returns were under audit, a proof that requires nothing more than releasing the letter from the IRS. A year later, there’s been nothing but a letter from a lawyer paid by Trump claiming his return is “under review” by the IRS.
Oh, and I almost forgot that Trump promised to release his tax returns if President Obama released his long form birth certificate. I guess he didn’t say when other than “at an appropriate time.” It seems like every day there is more reason to wonder how much business he does in Russia and he has given conflicting statements, so I keep wondering what his idea is of an appropriate time?
Our president has an odd concept of time for a grown man. He lives in the present, as we all must, but he lives in the present as if there were no past and there will be no future. History is not his strong point. He blunders into statements that appear to shake the foundation of commitments the U.S. undertook after years of study or trial and error.
The big one was Article Five of the NATO treaty: “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Whether Trump understood the historical roots of NATO and its lengthy facedown with the Warsaw Pact is questionable, but that’s way more history than is required to understand the gravity of Article Five. The only time Article Five has ever been invoked was after September 11, 2001, when all the NATO nations came to the defense of the United States and participated in various ways in chasing Osama bin Laden’s crew to Afghanistan.
In the moral universe where I live, that one recent fact should make any president pause before casting doubt on whether the U.S. would defend other nations under Article Five.
There is more. The “one China” policy. The “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. These positions didn’t become policy overnight and the implications are broad enough that one man should not be reversing direction with no more consideration than underlies a tweet.
Just as President Trump ignores the past, he speaks without regard to the future. The press conference that will happen next week. The evidence that will be devastating to his opponents. The documents he will produce. All these things he will say today for the sake of “winning” the day without any regard for whether he can deliver as promised.
The lack of regard for the future extends to things much greater than whether a document will be produced. He continues to promise unemployed coal miners that he will reopen the mines. While President Trump’s party disdains climate science, that position would be suicidal for a utility and there will be no new coal fired power plants.
The coal mines did not close to be mean to the miners. They closed because nobody was buying coal and there’s no reason to think that is going to change. President Trump, when talking to the miners, is not thinking of tomorrow—just today.
In addition to his childlike sense of time, Trump’s handlers have admonished that briefing materials need to be short and to the point and contain pictures when possible. In other words, his reading habits are also childish.
There is nothing wrong with being childish if you are a child. While I wonder about the nuclear codes in the hands of a child, I am reminded that a lot of people voted for Donald J. Trump and the childish traits in his personality are not exactly secrets.
To Trump, what matters is winning rather than losing, which might not be so bad except that he wants to win today, without regard for what came before or what challenges will present themselves tomorrow. Given the selfishness of young children and that they are challenged by the idea of deferring gratification, what President Trump as a big baby does is understandable.
What is not understandable is why people vote for him. As the unkept promises continue to stack up, do the voters also forget what he said yesterday? What gnaws at me is what this means for the very idea of democracy. If Trump is a case of the voters getting what they wanted, what does that say about whether people can govern themselves?
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.