In the 1940s, Graham Greene entered a contest to write the best Graham Greene parody. He finished third.
None of us likes to think we’re predictable—the highest compliment you can get is to be told that you are independent of thought, able to dash left when everyone expects that you’d veer right.
It was therefore shocking when, after the U.S. Senate voted to acquit him of the articles of impeachment passed by the House, President Donald Trump handled the exoneration with stiff-lipped dignity and rigid aplomb, with Lincolnian appeals for the nation to come together and work toward a common goal.
JK, none of that happened.
The minute the impeachment trial was over, Trump took off like a meth-addled wolverine, revenge tweeting about Mitt Romney, taunting Democrats with a video suggesting he’s going to be in office forever, and mocking politicians who pray (while speaking at a prayer breakfast).
During an hour-long press conference in which he called the Russia investigation “bullshit,” Trump shimmied to all the greatest hits: He referenced Hunter Biden, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi. He remarked that frequently jacketless Rep. Jim Jordan is “obviously very proud of his body” and called Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, who was shot during a 2017 baseball practice, “more handsome” now after being “whacked.”
The president’s behavior was boorish and childish, but also predictable. Entirely, completely predictable.
Trump is the most imitable human being on the planet. His beats and phrases have become so familiar that anyone can do a passable imitation and actually predicting what he’ll say is as easy as consulting anyone who has ingested bath salts in the past twelve hours.
If, during his post-impeachment speech, Trump had claimed he had once been the punter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or that he had invented seedless oranges, or that he had recently signed a trade deal with Wakanda, no one in America would have been surprised. And his Republican supporters would have nodded intently and clapped, like the trained seals they are.
But that’s just thinking about what Trump says. Predicting what he’ll do is a different matter.
And all you have to do there is look at the scandal he is wriggling out of at the moment and then identify where he will exactly replicate the misdeed with which he is being charged.
Remember when Trump was being investigated for obstruction of justice after firing FBI Director James Comey? According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump then tried to obstructthat investigation by ordering Mueller’s firing, too. This would be like an accused murderer trying to prove his innocence by killing the prosecutor outside the courtroom.
Or perhaps you recall when Trump declared “TOTAL EXONERATION” on the charge of colluding with Russia the day the Mueller report was released. The president was so overjoyed to be marginally cleared of accepting foreign help for his 2016 campaign that the very next day he called the new president of Ukraine to demand foreign help for his 2020 campaign.
When this gambit went belly up and the House sent impeachment articles to the Senate, Trump and his defenders insisted that the real corruption was not in the White House, but with former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who had finagled his way into a lucrative job with a Ukrainian oil and gas company.
During arguments in the well of the Senate, Trump’s defense team spent hours invoking the Bidens as America watched. In effect, Trump’s lawyers used the trial, of which the outcome was predetermined, to accomplish exactly what Trump had sought during his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy—to sully the reputation of the Bidens in an attempt to keep Joe Biden from winning the Democratic nomination. (And it appears it may have helped, as Biden’s campaign has since entered electoral hospice care.)
All these predicates perfectly map out what will happen as Trump attempts to explain away his Attorney General Bill Barr allegedly intervening to secure a lighter sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone.
Everything so far is right out of the Trump playbook: He has denigrated law enforcement and judges, called Stone’s conviction “illegal” and a “miscarriage of justice,” and compared his buddy’s prosecution to the Mueller investigation.
Stone, of course, has been found guilty of obstructing a Congressional investigation that could have damaged the president. And to make sure Stone ends up with a light sentence, you better believe Trump is about to do some “beautiful,” “perfect” obstruction of his own.
“The way in which the world is imagined,” wrote Walter Lippmann in 1922, “determines at any moment what men will do.”
What Donald Trump does is consistently live up to the expectations of those who have the lowest possible expectations for him.
And because Trump’s imagination of the world never changes, neither will his predictable actions.