Having desensitized the public to his brand of “leadership,” Trump would seem to be in the enviable position of having nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately for everyone, he keeps finding ways to stoop lower. Recently, he has engaged in a controversial brouhaha over phone calls to the widows of military personnel who were killed in action. First, he accused previous presidents of not making these phone calls, prompting angry rebukes and rebuttals from Obama’s former staff. Then, he allegedly spoke in a dismissive manner to the wife of an American soldier who was recently killed in an ambush in Niger, saying that the man “knew what he signed up for.”
And the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers? Even some Republicans think that the White House is not being open and honest about the situation. An investigation has been launched. For the umpteenth time since his inauguration, it appears that Donald Trump is having his worst week ever.
But today, Trump devolved from bad politician to downright weird and kooky politician. Frustrated by the continuing investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election that inexplicably landed him in the Oval Office, Trump has tweeted a suggestion that both the Democratic Party and the FBI colluded with the Russians to cook up false evidence against his campaign. Obviously, Trump dislikes Democrats, and evidence suggests that he has no love for the FBI either. But to accuse the FBI of conspiring against him is perhaps Trump’s most incendiary allegation yet.
It is one thing to accuse the opposing political party of conspiratorial behavior, but quite another to accuse an independent government agency, especially one as elite and respected as the FBI, of such actions.
Not only is Trump’s accusation outlandish, but it frays the fabric of our democracy. Our nation and its system of governance can only survive if there is a critical mass of professionalism and honest leadership at the helm. Our hallowed institutions, ranging from the free press to the professional civil service, are under strain from the Trumpian assault. The President of the United States wants his partisan base to reject these institutions and profess their loyalty to him.
Hopefully, most Trump voters have had enough of this nauseating roller coaster and will simply roll their eyes at this latest accusation. But some will continue to follow him into the ludicrous depths of conspiracy, agreeing that the mainstream media is nothing but fake news and that the “deep state” is plotting against their beloved leader.
Through accusing the Democrats and the FBI of conspiring against him, Donald Trump is tacitly urging his base to trust nobody but him and reject any notion of political compromise or the professional civil service. Trump is telling his voters to “trust no one,” setting up an era of nonstop conflict. It is akin to encouraging insurrection, and is not a game. What Trump is doing goes beyond politics and enters the realm of malfeasance.
Sadly, Trump’s encouragement of voter rebellion against our institutions will have long-term implications. It will make it harder for subsequent presidents to unite the country during trying times. And Trump’s base will suffer for their rejection, further alienating themselves from our changing society. Already, many Trump voters are struggling as our nation becomes increasingly diverse, urban, and focused on service industries as opposed to construction, manufacturing, and heavy industry. The last thing these voters should do is follow the President’s lead and turn their back on the rest of the country.
Previous presidents during the modern era, regardless of their political leanings, encouraged American citizens to engage with each other and with their government institutions. Only Donald Trump has urged Americans to break with the very government he was, somehow, elected to lead. No good will come from what he is doing, and the harms will persist long after he has lain in state. His voters, who are economically vulnerable, cannot afford to reject our changing society and our government institutions. His government cannot afford to lose high-quality applicants, many of whom will be dissuaded from pursuing government work due to the President’s hostility.