So now we know: Donald Trump thought his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was so “beautiful,” “perfect,” and “innocent” that he’s ready to release a similar readout of an earlier call the two had in April, as he casually promised to do—not once but twice—at his press conference at the U.N. Wednesday afternoon.
In other words: He genuinely thinks nothing untoward happened on that July call. We’ve all read that summary by now. We all saw the part where Zelensky mentioned wanting more Javelin anti-tank missiles, and Trump responded by saying, “I have a favor to ask of you, though”—the favor being to go find the Biden dirt.
All morning, everyone was asking: Why would the White House release that? It shows clearly that he asked for dirt on Biden. There are a few reasons—this charge is more serious than the others, the Democrats announced the impeachment effort, and other factors that made the White House feel they had to look like they were doing something.
But obviously, the main reason is that Trump thinks it clears him. He. Thinks. It. Clears. Him. And he thinks so because he thinks everybody does this.
Remember that Stephanopoulos exchange, where he asked Trump what if you got info about your opponent from Norway? “I think I’d take it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.” Remember how he stretched out those last two words, a mundane phrase that all of us have heard a thousand times, as if he were dispensing some secret wisdom?
Now you might be thinking no, Tomasky, you’ve got that exactly wrong—he doesn’t believe it. He knows better than that. He’s just saying it, because he’s a liar and because he’ll say anything and because his purblind worshippers will believe it and Fox will repeat it and it helps him get away with things.
Maybe. But I don’t think so. My position explains more about the man. He believes everybody does unethical stuff because his brain doesn’t even understand that there is such a category as ethical behavior. Fred Trump told him it’s a jungle out there, every man for himself; then in second grade, some kid stole his pencils, and boom, that was it. The worldview was formed, and it hasn’t changed. There is no moral behavior in his universe. No one follows rules or goes by the book. Certainly no one takes something like the public trust seriously. If you believe that, you’re a sucker. Everyone is filth. Everyone is scum. And you win by being filthier filth and scummier scum.
And since all this is true, he doesn’t see how anyone can be shocked at his behavior. They’re just jealous that they didn’t think of it first, or that he’s better at it. And there’s nothing “wrong” about being better at it.
At the press conference, we saw the contours of what the pushback is going to be. The first journalist to ask a question asked, in sum, how would you feel if Barack Obama had asked for foreign dirt on in 2016? A hypothetical question, that you might think would be met by a hypothetical answer.
But no! Trump went meta-literal: “Well, that’s what he did, really, and hopefully that’ll all come out.” Then he cited books, “by Gregg Jarrett and others,” that detail the enormity of the conspiracy. Jarrett is the Fox News legal analyst whose 2018 The Russia Hoax lays out this vast left-wing conspiracy in which the Obama Justice Department people and various other deep staters tried to elect Hillary Clinton and stop Donald Trump. It’s all insanity, but it’s perfect fodder for the Trumpian brain, because it shows a) that everyone is wicked and lawless and b) that he was the most victimy victim in the history of the United States and, when you think about it, probably in all of history (and prevailed in spite of it all, and then had those great inaugural crowds on top of it!).
So that’s where we’re headed. Regardless of his 2020 opponent, his impeachment defense will be that whatever I’m being accused of, the other side did it first and worse.
One more thing about that press conference: Trump looked pretty beaten down. He droned on and on and on about all the wonderful meetings he had and friends he made, and it was all very beautiful, and of course the fake news won’t cover any of it, as if the media had dropped everything else when Barack Obama hammered out a new zinc deal with Peru.
But he looked bored. With himself. Of course, his heart isn’t in that kind of thing. But he wasn’t even all that animated when he talked about Crooked Hillary and fake news. True, there was no roaring crowd to lap it up. But maybe he’s still taking in the shock of the impeachment announcement. Maybe it’s crept into the back of his brain that the clock has started ticking on his days of invincibility.
To be honest I’m not sure his days of invincibility are over, alas. That requires some Republicans to find their spines. Not betting on that. And this impeachment thing is going to be an awful, hideous, ugly slog. He’ll rebound. And lacking even the simulacrum of a conscience that Richard Nixon had, he’ll just keep going lower and lower. But today at the U.N., we saw a Trump who seemed at least a little shocked that someone finally called him on his recklessness. It’s a start.