The Col. Jessup Presidency
The very day it came to light that President Donald Trump had withheld $400 million in military funds to Ukraine in advance of asking that country to investigate the Biden family for “corruption,” the script was written.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,” he said on September 24. “I didn’t put any pressure on them whatsoever.”
He then added: “I think it would probably, possibly have been OK if I did.”
Either Trump was oblivious to the seriousness of what he was being accused of, or he was telegraphing his strategy to deal with it. The plan would soon metastasize into the president of the United States standing outside of the White House last Thursday, openly pleading with foreign governments to help him dig up dirt on his 2020 opponents.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” he said. “What happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Clearly Trump’s strategy is to go full Colonel Jessup.
By belligerently admitting his lawbreaking in public—and then doing more of it—Trump is hoping his followers see him as a strongman doing what he pleases and not a confused weakling who didn’t actually realize what he was doing.
You want me on that wall!
You need me on that wall!
And Mexico’s going to pay for it!
But, of course, Trump won’t be able to get away with it without coaxing other elected Republicans into his vortex of nonsense. Through Twitter bullying, he must mold an army of useful idiots afraid that he might say something unflattering about him.
In fact, the current U.S. Senate reminds me of another movie. There’s a scene in (the criminally underrated) Billy Madison where Adam Sandler’s character tries to convince the kids on a field trip that all the cool kids pee in their pants. Because if everyone does it, nobody will be embarrassed.
On Sunday morning, Wisconsin’ obeisant Sen. Ron Johnson showed up on Meet the Press with a full bladder, anxious to relieve himself on command. A combative Johnson proclaimed he didn’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies and pitched nutball conspiracy theories to exasperated host Chuck Todd, who rightly observed that the senator was just trying to placate America’s most powerful TV viewer.
Sure enough, later in the day, Johnson’s humiliating lapdog routine paid off, earning him a tweet of approval from the president:
Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” had a total meltdown in his interview with highly reaspected Senator @RonJohnsonWI. Seems that a not very bright Chuck just wasn’t getting the answers he was looking for in order to make me look as bad as possible. I did NOTHING wrong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2019
So we now know the price of a Republican senator’s dignity. It’s exactly 278 characters.
Earlier in the week, Johnson had told Wisconsin reporters that he thought it was perfectly okay if Trump had solicited the Chinese for campaign help. Simultaneously he said that he doesn’t trust China “any farther than I can throw them.”
“I look at that transcript and I go, it’s Trump being Trump,” Johnson told a town hall last week, echoing the type of logic that kept Michael Jackson in polite company for 20 years. “I know he’s got a thing for sleepovers with kids, but that’s just Michael being Michael.”
Johnson has had plenty of company. When asked about Trump’s China comments, Marco Rubio said he didn’t think Trump was making a “real request,” telling reporters “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it.” Well, okay. Are you outraged by it, Beautiful Marco?
A week ago, after being confronted by a television anchor who pointed out that the facts in the CIA whistleblower’s account against Trump had been verified, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham told her “you’ve got an opinion and I’ve got an opinion,” which is about as convincing as Ron Burgundy’s offer to “agree to disagree” over the founding of San Diego.
This cowardice serves to aid Trump as he floods the media with outright lies. And it to normalizes his overtly criminal actions. A whole generation of young people is growing up to believe the GOP is populated only by maniacal narcissists and gutless opportunists who care only for their own careers. No, really: 62 percent of voters between 18 and 34 approve of the impeachment inquiry and 58 percent of that cohort say they believe Trump has committed crimes as president.
How do Johnson, Rubio, and Graham think this is going to work out for their party in the long run?
It’s funny to think that one day when the history of the implosion of the Republican party is written, historians will note that the calmest period of Trump’s tenure were the two weeks during which he drew on map with a sharpie in an attempt to convince people that Alabama really had been in the path of a hurricane.
As the saying (frequently misattributed to Winston Churchill) goes, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” But that assumes there’s another side from which to emerge. Trump’s lawless boasting simply drags members of Congress and the American people further into hell. And if you need proof, consider that scotch now costs 25 percent more because of Trump’s tariffs.
At the moment we need it most.