How to understand Trump's perverted version of history
Posted October 22, 2019 11:59 a.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump's taste for history is moving in new and awkwardly divergent directions as he faces the twin challenges of an impeachment inquiry and a 2020 re-election campaign. He's placing himself alongside the titans of US history one day and comparing himself to the victims of the country's collective sins the next.
Trump has always spun his own narrative as either heroic or persecuted. Often both at the same time.
Early in his presidency he pushed comparisons with his predecessor Andrew Jackson, who was an outsider in Washington and a populist. He was also a racist and anti-abolitionist. Of all the Presidents to put on a pedestal, Trump chose the one that his predecessor, the first black man to hold the job, was trying to take off the $20 bill.
But now Trump has grander vision. He repeatedly put himself alongside George Washington before a Cabinet meeting Monday, and, later that day, compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, in an amazing interview with Fox News.
He's eyeing his place in this history books just as he faces the Constitutional penalty of impeachment, the remedy the Founding Fathers offered to rebuke and remove a President.
And in Trump's mind, that equals injustice, so hours after comparing himself to the greatest presidents, he said the effort to end his presidency is like a "lynching," an incorrect and supremely insensitive historical comparison. Mobs of racists lynched African-Americans in one of the darker periods of US history, part of an effort intimidate, dehumanize and keep power from those who didn't have it. Trump certainly has power now.
The word lynching, given its history, should be repulsive to anyone.
Impeachment is a disgusting word to Trump
But it's the word impeachment that repulses Trump, as he said on Fox News, when he told his friend Sean Hannity he should sue Democrats over their impeachment efforts.
"The word impeachment is a dirty, disgusting word," Trump said.
"It's supposed to be for high crimes and misdemeanors. I can't believe that this wouldn't be a lawsuit."
His gripe is that he's being targeted without, as he puts it, "due process." But the Constitution and the courts are pretty clear that the House has leeway to impeach a President and it's the Senate's job to try him or her once they are impeached. That's the whole point of separation of powers.
It was in this vein, frustrated about his press coverage, he comparing himself to Lincoln, complaining that Trump, not Lincoln, has gotten the worst press in history.
"You know who was covered worse than me? They say Abraham Lincoln. I've heard the one person -- used to be five or six now it's down to one -- Honest Abe Lincoln. They say he got the worst press of anybody. I say I dispute it."
He also later talked about how he's not ready to talk about the election campaign yet and he talked proudly of the day he was inaugurated in 2017 and he recalled standing where Lincoln and all the others stood in the White House.
"When it's time to run, I'll run," he said, talking wistfully outside the White House about how soon his first term will end. "Can you believe we're getting down to 12 months. Can you believe it? When I first -- right in that corner of that beautiful building and I was in the first night with the first lady and I'm standing in an area where Abe Lincoln was and all of them were and that's the way it was and I'm standing there and I'm saying wow, four years, that's a long time."
He doesn't see himself as one of the very few Presidents to face impeachment, but rather as one of the greats.
The "phony" thing slipped into the Constitution
Comparing himself to George Washington, inaccurately, on Monday at Cabinet meeting, Trump bragged about giving his salary back to the country.
"I give away my presidential salary. They say no other president has done it. I'm surprised, to be honest with you. They say George Washington may have been the only other president to do that. See whether or not Obama gave up his salary. See whether or not all of the other of your favorites, your other favorites gave up their salary. The answer is no."
But while he wants to be compared to Washington, he's also frustrated with the Founding Fathers about emoluments. Before the Cabinet meeting he went after the Constitution's "phony" emoluments clause, suggesting even the Founding Fathers were against him.
Emolument is Constitution-speak for a salary or benefit derived from public office.
Trump is right that the Founding Fathers were against the idea of any President trading on the office of the United States presidency. But he's also, it turns out, right that they didn't really close the loop and spell out how to make sure it didn't happen -- which is how he's been able to remain in possession of his real estate holdings, and to keep his business dealings private, while in office.
The Miami Herald reported Congressional Democrats plan to file plan to file a legal brief that alleges Trump's short-lived plan to hold a G7 summit with leaders of other developed democracies at his golf course in Doral, Florida, violates the emoluments clause. Democrats were already suing him for violating the foreign Emoluments Clause, arguing he must get the consent of Congress before accepting money from foreigners.
That's separate from a suit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and DC, arguing that trump's business hurts other businesses around it. That suit, left for dead, was revived last week too. Those developments were partially lost in the chaos of his foreign policy decision to abandon Kurdish US allies in Syria and the effort to impeach him for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the family of his domestic political rival.
Trump was shocked at the blowback against his attempt to hold the summit for world leaders at his golf course. And that's partially, according to his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, because while Trump is the US President, he still sees himself as being in the hospitality business.
As much as Trump wants to be like Washington or Lincoln, he will always be synonymous with the Trump Organization.