Saturday, March 30, 2019

Trump and the price of vengeance


IT IS NOT enough that I succeed, others must fail,” said Genghis Khan, the 12th century superdespot who inspired merciless boardroom tactics, equally merciless dictators, and the taste for vengeance savored by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

All the punditalk about a possible overreach by House Democrats in the wake of the pending release of the Mueller report pales in comparison to the proven overreach of President* Donald Trump, doing a protracted victory lap over apparently prevailing in that closed-but-not-closed investigation. Trump can’t celebrate a win for its own sake; chaos and conflict are the twin north stars of his persona and his psyche. And now, in the wake of victory, Trump has reanimated conflict with an old foe to address a new enemy.

With the potential Richter-scale disclosures in the Mueller report now largely downplayed by Attorney General William Barr’s Cliff’s Notes synopsis of the Mueller report, the president* hasn’t shifted his sights to a new domestic policy program. Instead he’s focused on remounting the thrice-beaten dead horse of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

With a statement to the Fox News bloviation ecosystem (“The Republican party will be the party of great health care. You watch.”) and apparently ready to make dismantling of that health care a central priority of the 2020 campaign — at the expense of at least 21 million Americans who can’t do without it — Trump’s busy turning the gold of a win into the dross of a stalemate or a loss, acting like a man blind to his own refusal to let a little success stand between himself and a major failure.

◊ ◊ ◊

Michael Kruse in Politico observed on March 29: “Barely more than a day after triumphantly (and incorrectly) blazoning his “Total EXONERATION,” Trump abruptly seized upon a Justice Department filing to pledge his intention to obliterate Obamacare. Bent on delivering on a campaign promise, Trump couldn’t resist the urge to try to parlay one win into an even larger one, no matter how improbable the odds. He ignored the advice of top staff and important allies, who pointed out that neither he nor his party had anything to offer as a replacement and that this almost certainly would work to the advantage of Democrats.”

The health-care issue is a convenient avenue where Trump can air a plethora of other grievances with his opponents, real and imagined. Even now, in the aftermath of what should be an easy layup of a victory lap with a touch of winner’s charitability, Trump’s hit full-vengeance mode, inveighing with a renewed vigor against the mainstream media, social media platforms, Hollywood and other available whipping boys and targets of opportunity.

He may well hope to exact revenge on his tormentors purely for its own sake. But never mind the mind-numbing logistical challenges of visiting Oval Office vengeance on each of more critics than he can count. In pursuing a mindless course of retribution, there’s a very real risk Trump runs by clumsily relitigating the purported wrongs against him for the last two years: the risk of turning voters off.

◊ ◊ ◊

VOTERS UNAFRAID to entertain something close to civility in the public discourse have reason to fear, or expect, tuning Trump out. The meanness of the man, his essential smallness, have been obvious in the worst way, and not just recently. Kruse reports: “To those ... who have watched him and known him longer than the insiders in Washington, this is par for the course for Trump. His vengeful, punitive, zero-sum worldview, they believe, dictates that a win alone is never enough; somebody else has to take the loss, and feel it.”

“Trump’s energy,” a former Trump associate told Kruse, “comes from conflict.”

“He is not interested in pleasures such as art and food and friendship, and he doesn’t seem to be motivated by love or creative impulses. The one exception is his drive to create conflict, which brings him the attention of others,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer, to Politico.

“When he says he likes to fight — all kinds of fights — he is telling the truth.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Waging a punishment campaign is unproductive and potentially damaging to a presidency at any time in a term in office; A combative Richard Nixon tried that for months during the Watergate debacle, and look what good it did him. By waging vengeance on the eve of a presidential campaign, Trump risks alienating voters — not so much his Base voters, who’ll happily drink his bathwater if he asked them, but the swing voters and independents that helped him win in 2016, the same cohorts of voters he needs to have a chance at winning in 2020.

Finally, inexplicably, Trump goes even further. He didn’t have enough real working adversaries, it was time to go out and gin one up. That’s what he’s doing with the resurrection of the health-care issue; the personal vengeance campaign is yoked to the revival of a new old Trump policy objective: the destruction of Obamacare.

If the stars misalign somehow and the president* gets his way, the 20+ million people most likely to be badly hammered by a repeal of the ACA would certainly hollow out a serious chunk of the 35 percent of the electorate, give or take, that defines The Base from which all blessings flow.

◊ ◊ ◊

THERE’S A better use of Trump energies than revisiting the old battleground he keeps losing on, again and again. The fact that he insists on doing just that is to focus on a proven loser in the polls and the courts, two of the three places that matter the most in the debate.

In the wake of the release of Barr’s index-cards-and-a-Sharpie summary of Mueller’s report, there have been calls to Democrats from conservative analysts and the Fox News star chamber, asking them to accept the findings (the findings of the summary, mind you, not the full report) that Trump wasn’t ever involved with Russia in any way — requests asking Dems to “just get over it” and “get on with your lives” and (the usual go-to shorthand) “move on.”

How sadly ironic it is that Trump, the prickly, tragically hypersensitive standard-bearer of the Republicans, seems to be unwilling to take that same advice.

Image credits: Trump: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik. Nixon: Public domain.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...