It’s one thing for President Trump to go around recklessly calling anyone he disagrees with (or who has ever criticized him) a “liar” or “traitor” or “crook” or “loser.” Apparently, this behavior is what an insecure and bullying former real estate man-child regards as a projection of presidential leadership. On the other hand, one can argue that it was this cringe-worthy adolescent behavior that got him elected in the first place.
But Trump’s latest iteration of the classic “smear job” has the potential to not only come back and bite him on the rear end, it has the potential to irrevocably cripple his presidency. When he unwisely (what else is new?) and precipitously launched a public attack on the vaunted FBI, he made what could be a fatal error.
While Trump adheres to no ideology (prior to and during his campaign, he made dozens of outrageous and contradictory assertions, including criticizing the Citizens United decision, suggesting higher taxes for the wealthy, donating money to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial race, and asking why there “can’t be Medicare for all?”), he is still, nominally, a Republican. As squirrelly as this man has shown himself to be, he was nonetheless elected as a Republican.
And being a Republican still means something to the Party faithful. Even in this period of goofy recalibration, being a Republican still represents a belief system. Among other things—going all the way back to the Turbulent Sixties, with its riots, bombings, street theater, and scary black people—it means that a Republican president is automatically going to be regarded as the titular and spiritual leader of the Law and Order Party.
Law and Order. These words are emblematic. They speak of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and John Mitchell. They speak of Stability. Civility. Respect for Authority. These were hallmarks of traditional Republicans. No beards, no long hair, no protests, no demonstrations. The Republican Party and Law and Order went together as naturally as vodka and regrets.
And there was nothing that represented the glorification and moral excellence of Law and Order more than the FBI. As much respect as decent, down-to-earth Republican families had for their local police force, it didn’t come close to the unabashed awe and admiration they had for the FBI. A boy or girl who aspired to join the FBI was a source of enormous pride to any Republican family.
Of course, for students, anti-war protesters, and the counterculture in general, it was the exact opposite. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Intimidation) was anathema to anyone who considered himself remotely “progressive.” As emotionally charged as this now sounds, in the year 1970, the FBI was seen to represent everything one might expect from a federal goon squad determined to establish a Fourth Reich.
And now Donald Trump, the spokesman of the Law and Order Party, has taken it upon himself to trash the Bureau. To denigrate it. To subvert it. Either to save his own skin, or deflect prying eyes, or avoid embarrassment to his family, Trump and his team have attempted to depict Robert Mueller, a life-long Republican and decorated combat Marine in the Vietnam war, as being a low-class shill for the Democrats, if not an outright “traitor.”
How ironic would it be if the blowback from hardcore, mainstream, pro-FBI Republicans results in Donald Trump being….being what? Impeached? Censured?
In any event, this improbable episode has made one thing abundantly clear: Donald Trump has shown himself to possess the most under-developed, infantile political instincts of any president in the history of the Republic. This dreadful mixture of arrogance, bluster and ignorance takes one’s breath away.