Trump’s Derangement Deepens

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Trump. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Let me put this as simply as I can. After firing FBI Director James Comey for investigating the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians, the president is now openly smearing and threatening to fire his successor as most prominent investigator, special counsel Robert Mueller. There is no question about the motive behind all this, because Trump has told anyone within hearing distance or access to a television that he fired Comey to kill a vital and important investigation into Russian interference in our elections, which yesterday Putin all but admitted: “They meddle in all other countries’ affairs, what did they expect?” For good measure, Trump is now openly arguing through surrogates that Mueller is acting in bad faith, pursuing a “witch hunt,” and should be fired if his investigation gets anywhere near the president.

Every now and again, you have to take a moment, stop being distracted by the constant breaking news, and let all this sink in.

This is now a slow-moving version of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre — but graver. It’s graver because the original crime — the Kremlin’s attempt to hack our elections in possible cahoots with some on the Trump campaign — has so much wider ramifications than an office break-in. It’s an act of virtual war by a foreign adversary that came close to rigging the voting machines, for Pete’s sake. If it was in any way abetted by an American connected to Trump, we absolutely need to find out. And this crisis is more dangerous because the president has not only been trying to prevent or rig any such investigation for months — demanding personal loyalty from the FBI director, pressuring national intelligence officials to exonerate him before the inquiry is finished — but also continues to boast about this obstruction of justice as if there were nothing wrong with it at all.

Which brings us to Trump’s mental illness, by which I mean simply that he would not pass a clinical psych test for any other job in the country. Yesterday morning, the mad king tweeted: “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.” He then called Mueller “a very bad and conflicted” individual. Later, like a spoiled child, he wondered out loud: “Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” This morning, after touting for weeks that he wasn’t under investigation, he seemed to concede in a tweet that he was, and that he might be on the verge of firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” (Subsequent reports that Rosenstein is thinking of recusing himself from matters related to the Russia probe only deepen the sense of chaos.)

The truth is Trump cannot abide any kind of investigation of his campaign or of himself by anyone. That would require him to defer to someone else, and his psyche cannot let that happen. (This is the core reason behind his refusal to release his tax returns.) The very idea of actually wanting inspection to clear his name simply doesn’t occur to him. After a lifetime of lying, fraud, debt, secrecy, and bankruptcy, his instinct is always to deny everything and to do all he can to subvert any smidgen of accountability or transparency. And so, despite arguing that there is nothing there in the Russian investigation (which might very well be true), and waiting for vindication, he has attempted to end it prematurely. He literally knows no other way. And he is likely to keep doing this — especially if he is now under direct scrutiny for abuse of power. Asking him to subject himself to a neutral third-party inquiry comes as easily to him as it would to Putin or Duterte or Mugabe. It seems absurd to them — and they, like Trump, would react with incandescent rage.

Again, it takes a while for this to register. But the president, in his anger, is now asserting that the FBI inquiry was initiated by nameless people who already knew that there was no basis to the allegations. Therefore the investigation is “the single greatest witch-hunt in American political history” — surpassing the lowest lows of McCarthyism no less. If Trump cannot stop the investigation, he is doing all he can to delegitimize it, whatever the costs to the credibility of our system of government. And personally attacking the integrity of a Republican former FBI director, who was only recently regarded as a near-parody of bipartisan rectitude, would be a shocking event, if we had not become numb to this president’s malevolent derangement.

And this is more potentially lethal to our democracy than Watergate because today’s Republican Party is utterly different than Nixon’s. It has been taken over by a mass movement led by a cult idol and there are no Republicans of any stature or heft who are prepared to stand up to him, as some once famously did with Nixon. Hence the spectacle of Newt Gingrich. A month ago, he called Mueller “a superb choice.” This past week, he tweeted that anyone who thinks Mueller will be fair in his investigation is “delusional.” Worse, actually: Mueller is “now clearly the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.” The official RNC talking points in response to the latest Washington Post bombshell about Trump himself being under scrutiny include this beaut: “This story is nothing more than an example of even more leaks coming out of the FBI and special counsel’s office in an effort to undermine the President.”

The right-wing media chorus is also instantly on fleek. “Now we find out that [Mueller is] Leaky Jim Comey’s bestest buddy there ever was. These guys are pals, and now Mueller is going to investigate the dude who fired his amigo? Does that seem cool to you?” vents Kurt Schlichter at Townhall.com. The Daily Mail’s U.S. editor opines: “I’ll say it: If the special counsel’s office is leaking prejudicial information about an investigation, it should be shut down immediately.” Libertarian law professor Randy Barnett: “Mueller should resign not recuse. If he recuses, the matter will be delegated to one of the Democrat attack lawyers he’s hired.” A key barometer of Republican partisanship, the blogger Glenn Reynolds, endorses all of these arguments. Kellyanne Conway is also busy asserting that because three individuals in Mueller’s legal team have donated to Democrats, it’s automatically rigged.

And so it seems to me completely plausible — even inevitable — that Mueller will be fired too at some point. More saliently, if his team’s work eventually exposes and proves Trump’s obstruction of justice, the only possible recourse, impeachment, will never happen. There will never be 18 Republican senators who will vote against the leader in this Congress or any other. We will have a criminal in the White House indefinitely, utterly impervious to sanction, and emboldened even further. And he will have brought almost half the country along with him, digging deeper in with every news cycle.

Over a year ago, in this magazine’s pages, I wrote the following sentence: “In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event.” We are about to find out if I was right.

Watch: All the times Trump has shown he’s his own worst enemy.

I’m usually pretty good at staying calm under assault from the religious right. My own Christianity gives me an insight into where some are coming from, I guess, and, besides, their arguments against gay equality have always been beyond weak in civil, rather than Biblical, terms. But this latest post by my friend Rod Dreher deeply upset me. Titled “Born That Way? Really?” it accuses those of us who have long argued that homosexuality is involuntary or innate of being cynical liars: “The ‘truth’ in this matter [0f the origins of homosexuality] has always been ‘what works to advance the cause.’” He then argues that there is such a thing as “latent homosexuality” that can be “made active” by a more tolerant society. Hence the need to reinstate stigmatization of gay people as human beings who have chosen sin — to keep anyone else from experimenting and thereby becoming gay.

His sole evidence for this? A graph from a comprehensive study of the 2016 election that shows much higher identification as bisexual among today’s millennials than among older generations. Here’s the graph from a tweet:

The data here, it’s important to note, are not about who is bi or gay and lesbian, who is having gay sex or is in a same-sex relationship, or who has same-sex sexual desire. It is merely a measurement of who is prepared to identify as such in a survey. That’s a far more malleable and amorphous figure. And it finds, to Rod’s horror, that around 13 percent of 18-year-olds now identify as bi. That drops to around 6 percent for those who are 28; and around 4 percent for those now in their 30s. Another longitudinal survey — from Gallup — also shows a sizable increase among millennials who identify as “LGBT” in the last few years. The change is from 3.5 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2016.

If Rod’s interpretation is correct, it means that there were far, far fewer gay people as a proportion of the population a few decades ago than there are now. It means that, by the study Rod cites, there were almost no gays or lesbians born in America in 1930. It means that more progressive and secular countries, like the Netherlands, would have much higher numbers of gay people than in the past or elsewhere. There is no solid evidence for any of this. But there is evidence that these numbers are a little dodgy and noisy. The Gallup survey, for example, finds that 40 percent of those identifying as LGBT are racial minorities and that the proportion of black men who identify as gay is more than twice the proportion of white men. It also claims that in 2012, a little under 3 percent of baby-boomers identified as LGBT, whereas a year later, only 0.5 percent did. Seriously? Count me as dubious.

But the obvious explanation for these numbers is a simple one: it is that millennials simply have much less shame about sexual orientation than older generations. Growing up in a world of legal marriage equality, that should not be surprising. Gallup suggests as much: “It’s likely that millennials are the first generation in the U.S. to grow up in an environment where social acceptance of the LGBT community markedly increased. This may be an important factor in explaining their greater willingness to identify as LGBT.” It may also, in some way, be “cool” to identify as bi in your teens or in college in a way it wasn’t before. It doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about much else — and certainly not whether they will have a gay relationship in the future.

We should, of course, always keep an open mind. It’s extremely hard to get solid numbers on something like sexual orientation. Maybe destigmatization will mean that more bi people will experiment with same-sex relationships, even though the study actually shows gay identification as stable for the past few decades. They might even — God forbid — have happier, healthier lives as a result. But what distresses me about Rod’s post is his belief that homosexuals should be restigmatized for the sake of others, that one part of the population should be shamed and targeted purely to send a message to otherwise confused kids that being gay is wrong. The only word for this is cruelty, the immiseration of gay kids for the sake of controlling those who may eventually be bi. I cannot see anything remotely Christian about that.

Last, some encouraging news. Every time an Islamist terror attack happens, we hear about how silent the Muslim community is. They’re often not — but the calumny sticks, especially when the president promotes it, as he did after the San Bernardino tragedy. So this recent story leapt out to me after the recent attack on London Bridge. The biggest Muslim group in Britain put out a statement not only condemning the murderers, but taking an unprecedented step:

“We will not perform the traditional Islamic funeral prayer for the perpetrators and we also urge fellow imams and religious authorities to withdraw such a privilege. This is because such indefensible actions are completely at odds with the lofty teachings of Islam. These vile murderers seek to divide our society and instill fear; we will ensure they fail.”

This is one critical voice in Britain’s Muslim community. And it is quintessentially a decent and liberal one.

See you next Friday.

Andrew Sullivan: Trump’s Derangement Deepens