(Getty/Salon)

Worst of Donald Trump in 2018: In a year of new lows, these were the lowest

It's so hard to choose: Kim Jong-un in Singapore? Putin in Helsinki? "Horseface"? But there's a clear winner


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Heather Digby Parton
December 31, 2018 2:10PM (UTC)

I don't know about you but I'm pretty sure I aged at least a decade in 2018. This accelerated political news cycle in the Trump era has the effect of making every day feel like a week and every month feel like a year. With all the chaos and perpetual motion, it would be easy to simply dismiss the whole thing as one big mess. But it isn't. It's all bad, but some things are much worse than others. And yes, the president of the United States is responsible for all of them. Nobody else even comes close.

Trump hurled some personal insults this year that were truly obnoxious, even for him. He called adult film actress Stormy Daniels "Horseface." He said dozens of times in his rallies and his twitter feed that Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, is "low IQ" (while at the same time declaring himself a "very stable genius"). He called his former staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman "that dog" and cruelly mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for her testimony during Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination hearing. He tweeted, “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

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Members of his own administration weren't spared,  including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Trump tweeted was "dumb as a rock" and didn't have the "mental capacity" for the job. We can assume that 2019 will bring similar tweets about soon-to-be-former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, whose resignation letter angered Trump greatly once the pundits on TV explained to him what it meant. His insults toward former members of the intelligence community are too many to list, but one of the big low points of the year was his impulsive decision to pull the security clearances of former CIA director John Brennan in a fit of pique.

It goes without saying that Trump has spent most of the year decrying Robert Mueller's investigation and making wild accusations against anyone and everyone he believes threatens him. (He often simply tweets "Witch Hunt!" as a sort of primal scream into the void.) Nothing threatens him more than the media, which he calls the "enemy of the people." This is an ongoing low point for the presidency -- no single comment or tweet stands out. His Twitter freak flag flies on a daily basis, every day bringing a fresh outrage.

But there have been some specific low points in 2018 that merit acknowledgment for their seriousness. Trump's infantile rhetoric is one thing. Perhaps the republic will be able to restore some semblance of maturity and decency to the office once he's gone. But his policy decisions and behavior on the world stage are something else.

Trump hit the ground running in January with a series of belligerent tweets taunting the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. The most memorable would be the one in which he wrote, "please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" The president later cast aside all normal protocol and met with Kim in an elaborately staged but substance-free meeting in Singapore which Trump later described as the moment he and the murderous dictator "fell in love."

This qualifies as a low point for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that Trump's bizarre approach to diplomacy, more or less by accident, temporarily ratcheted down the tensions he had ratcheted up, he showed the world that he's a sap. If that only embarrassed the U.S., that would be one thing. Americans can take it. But the consequences could be a lot more severe if other ambitious leaders with a little more savvy decide to push the envelope.

That brings us to another low point: Trump's "summit" with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Remember: That came on the heels of him making an utter ass of himself, first at the G8 meeting in Canada and then the NATO meeting in Europe, where he went out of his way to insult every one of America's allies and even showed up late to meet the Queen of England. It was a performance that made the Singapore pageant looks downright stately by comparison.

It was clear Trump was champing at the bit to get to his big meeting with Putin. The two leaders met in private in an unrecorded session for two hours and then emerged for a press conference in which Trump behaved as if he were the Russian president's majordomo. In one of the most memorable moments of his presidency thus far, he made it clear that he did not believe his own intelligence community was more credible than the Russian leader, even saying at one point he didn't see any reason why the Russians would have tried to sabotage his rival in the 2016 election. (He later fatuously asserted that he'd really meant to say that he didn't see why they wouldn't, which made no sense at all.)

That press conference was a turning point for a lot of people, I think. Trump's performance was so outrageously weak and sycophantic it became hard to deny that something was extremely awry in that relationship. Putin seemed very pleased, however.

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All those things and many others too numerous to list are low points of 2018. In fact the whole year is a low point. But to my mind nothing is lower than the fact that  Donald Trump believes that separating children, even infants, from their parents at the U.S. border -- putting the kids in cages and then losing track of hundreds of them as their parents were deported -- was a justifiable "deterrent." Trump reportedly calls their nations "shithole countries" and threatens their leaders with a cutoff of aid if they don't somehow keep their citizens from seeking refuge in the U.S. (Does he want them to build a wall to keep their people in?)

Trump has created a crisis where none existed -- illegal immigration and asylum claims are quite low by historical standards -- out of bigotry and rank political opportunism. His administration has changed the rules and procedures, forcing people to take more and more dangerous risks. And now children are dying. Two kids under age 10 have died in government custody under dubious conditions in the past month.

This is what the president of the United States had to say about that:

It is the very end of 2018. The government is shut down over Trump's demand for a  wall at the border, while refugee children die in our government's custody. Our president does not show even a scintilla of empathy or take any responsibility. That's low, even for him. I hesitate to think what 2019 is going to bring.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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