On Monday, June 12, the 143rd day of his presidency, Donald Trump convened his first meeting with all his Cabinet members. As they sat in the West Wing of the White House, Trump first complimented himself before asking them to praise his accomplishments as president.
Trump's Cabinet members dutifully responded, one by one. But White House chief of staff Reince Priebus' groveling was perhaps the most pathetic: "On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people. And we’re continuing to work every day to accomplish those goals."
This is not funny. This is not normal.
Trump is vainglorious, a personality trait that can be compelling for a character in a Shakespearean tragedy or a Greek play, but disastrous when channeled by the leader of a country.
Trump's actions on Monday are but one more reminder that he is a plutocratic authoritarian with no regard or respect for basic norms of democracy or human decency. He leads a cult of personality whose members will not abandon him; he is backed by a political party that worships power and will abandon American democracy in order to advance its goals.
And Trump has repeatedly shown that loyalty to him should supersede loyalty to the Constitution. As such, it appears more likely than not that Trump committed impeachable offenses when he potentially obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey for refusing to stop an investigation of whether Trump's inner circle had been infiltrated by Russian agents.
An independent judiciary and a democracy where the branches of government are separate from one another is a dire threat to an autocrat who wants unlimited power.
If so empowered, Donald Trump would rename the calendar in his name. Like any other petty dictator, he would festoon himself with medals and ribbons for imagined feats of bravery and strength. He would also order his own personal state-sponsored media in the form of Fox News, Infowars and Breitbart to play an endless loop of footage highlighting the Great Leader's wondrous abilities and all the ways he is a gift to the American people and the world. There would be military parades at home and spectacles of violence abroad to distract the public from the country's problems.
In the near-daily tsunamis of lies, cruelty, rumors, obfuscation and political theater that surrounds Trump's administration, there are important developments that the American people and news media often do not fully appreciate. This is understandable given that one of the primary tactics of an authoritarian is to bend reality to his or her will and by doing so to confuse the public so it is less able to resist.
Several weeks ago, Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. In a report about this decision, The Washington Post offered the following detail:
But the president’s mind was largely made up: He would withdraw from the Paris accord.
If he needed a nudge, though, one came from France over the weekend. [President Emmanuel] Macron was quoted in a French journal talking about his white-knuckled handshake with Trump at their first meeting in Brussels, where the newly elected French president gripped Trump’s hand tightly and would not let go for six long seconds in a show of alpha-male fortitude.
“My handshake was not innocent,” Macron said. He likened Trump to a pair of authoritarian strongmen — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and said that he was purposefully forceful because he believed his encounter with Trump was “a moment of truth.”
Hearing smack-talk from the Frenchman 31 years his junior irritated and bewildered Trump, aides said.
A few days later, Trump got his revenge. He proclaimed from the Rose Garden, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Trump has greatly diminished America's standing and prestige among the nations of the world. He is literally willing to let the planet burn and flood because his fragile childlike ego and insecure manhood were slighted and diminished.
What is Trump capable of doing when he does not get his way? To what extremes will he go for validation or revenge when his need for attention and hero worship is not satisfied? The potential answers should frighten all sane and intelligent people.
The 1994 film "The Madness of King George" offers the following warning: "We consider ourselves blessed in our constitution. We tell ourselves our Parliament is the envy of the world. But we live in the health and well-being of the sovereign as much as any vizier does the sultan."
It is tragic how quickly this horrible state of affairs has become a new type of normal in the United States. In retrospect, it is now clear that our country's democratic institutions and norms were far more fragile than even the most cynical critics had imagined. Who shall save us from the whims of Donald Trump? And is such a thing even possible anymore?