Trump Saps Greatness

January 2, 2019

I drove past the White House the other day. It had been a while and the place seemed smaller, somewhat tawdry, almost haunted. I imagined bats winging in and out of it and the president in the family quarters, talking back to the TV, railing against Pelosi, the Fed, Mueller, Macron, May, Mattis, Sessions, Stormy and ... who am I forgetting? Oh, yes, Obama for, well, everything. The car slowed. I thought I heard a wail from the upper floor. Donald Trump going mad. Or maybe I am. Trump has that effect on people. It’s hard to believe we’re into another year and he’s still the president of the United States. How did we elect such a dummy, such a liar, such a baby, such a fool, such a dirty man? He walks the same halls Lincoln did. He sleeps where the Roosevelts did. He bathes where the visiting Churchill did. Would Churchill ever have visited this president? Trump has soiled America. He has not made it greater but, in a word whose need is now apparent, worser. The America that presidents boasted about — Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” — is now a slum among nations. The goodness of the American people — another refrain of presidents past — is now a memory. But American goodness was always like the banner that tour guides held up — follow me. Follow the U.S. because we saved Europe from the Nazis and Asia from Imperial Japan. We saved Berlin with an airlift and eradicated polio. We thought we were great people. Trump wants to make America great again. It is an old refrain. John F. Kennedy used it in his 1960 campaign. “This is a great country,” he’d say. “But I think it could be a greater country…I think it’s time America started moving again.” The amazing thing is that the previous administration had been Dwight Eisenhower’s. That era is known for a sense that things were pretty good ... for white men in particular. But overall, things may never have been better. But the reason the Kennedy presidency shines — despite Vietnam and the messiness of his private life — is the urgency of his rhetoric. His call to follow his example, to service, was compelling. Contrast it with Trump’s disparagement of federal workers. Kennedy asked. Kennedy asked not. Presidents have measured themselves against him ever since. Not Trump, though. His soul is dark. He offers the world no moral leadership and slaps the back of authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin. He lies with every breath because it’s the easier course. There’s not a parent out there who wants his or her child to be like Trump. Trump’s one certain achievement will be to leave his successor an America that will become greater just by his leaving office. A president who does not lie, who does not try to buy the silence of a porn star, who makes his taxes public, who leaves money-making behind, who does not turn his political party into a beer-hall collection of ideological goons, who rages at the murder of a journalist by a foreign country ... such a president will make America greater just by showing up. Now, though, as I pass the White House, it looks sad, the home of a hoarder — lies and scandals and crimes spilling out of the closets and Trump tweeting some inanity. It’s a madhouse that I’ve conjured. It’s a madman we’ve elected. RICHARD COHEN writes for The Washington Post.

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