The week’s best opinion piece

Every Trump utterance raises the same three questions

January 11 at 11:30 AM

At his first cabinet meeting of 2018, President Trump promised to reexamine libel laws, saying that they aren’t strong enough.

Virtually every time President Trump speaks he raises three possibilities to explain his nonsensical, offensive or flat-out wrong assertions: 1) He doesn’t get basic concepts his aides and lawyers must have explained to him; 2) he understands and then forgets; or 3) he is showing contempt for voters’ intelligence and/or for our democratic system. We saw this play out in two episodes on Wednesday.

First, in a tweet lambasting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for releasing the Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony, Trump accused Feinstein of behaving in an “underhanded and possibly illegal way” and then called on Republicans to “take control” of the Russia investigation because it is a “Witch Hunt.” Let’s apply the three-possibilities test to these outbursts.

On Feinstein behaving “illegally,” can he not grasp that Congress is a co-equal branch and has a responsibility to inform the American people of its work?  There is no reason to question that what she did was legal.  Maybe he was told what she did was perfectly legal but Trump forgot. Alternatively, he was intentionally accusing a U.S. senator of breaking the law with no basis in an effort to pump up his supporters and discredit the FBI. Your choice as to which explanation works best.

Then he declared the GOP should “take control” of the Russia investigation, evidence once again that he considers it within his purview to crush a legitimate law enforcement inquiry. If not in and of itself obstruction of justice, it is an admission against interest revealing his corrupt state of mind. He advertised his conviction that could directly force former FBI director James B. Comey to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn and/or end the investigation. So here we go: Does he not grasp the concept of obstruction of justice, which surely his lawyers have explained? Did they tell him and he forgot (or couldn’t apply their admonitions to this situation)? Or is he so contemptuous of the law that he really believes he’s above reproach and can stymie law enforcement when it pleases him?

In a second round of Trumpian bluster, he announced once again he was going to look at the “libel law” because he doesn’t like the press publishing things he thinks are false. “You can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account.” Actually, you cannot do that under current law. The law allows him (goodness knows he threatens to sue it all the time) as a public figure to prevail in litigation if he can show either intentional falsity or reckless disregard of the truth. Moreover, for the umpteenth time, there is no federal libel law; it’s a matter of state law. Once more: Is he so dense he does not understand the difference between state and federal law or understand how the First Amendment operates? Was it explained to him but he forgot? Does he not care about constitutional rights and simply wants to intimidate and bully critics?

We shouldn’t rack our brains too hard trying to figure out if he is intellectually dense, suffering memory lapses or contemptuous of the law and his oath to defend the Constitution. It almost does not matter at this point. What matters is that he cannot do his job, cannot uphold his oath to defend our Constitution. Whether he has always been this way or has cracked under pressure, whether he’s lying or forgetful or unable to separate his desires from the legitimate powers he is granted (essentially, he’s a living, breathing example of authoritarianism) is not really our concern. The result is the same — a president unfit to perform the job and incapable of realizing there’s even a problem.

Republicans can defend this basket-case presidency all they please, but in doing so they reveal themselves to be either dense, dishonest or demagogic. The GOP and Trump are indeed one and the same.

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