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I’ve been thinking about President Trump’s comments to George Stephanopoulos. Why did he say that? That he would do that doesn’t surprise me. But why would he say it?

One part of it is probably the most innocent explanation (everything is relative). For Trump to say he would not work with a foreign government against his domestic political enemies would suggest that he or his family members or staffers did something wrong in 2016. Maybe they didn’t commit a crime. Maybe they didn’t “collude”, whatever that means. But to say he wouldn’t do this in 2020 would be to concede what he has never conceded and cannot concede but which likely strikes most of us as obvious: he and his campaign did something deeply wrong by welcoming and making use of damaging information from a foreign adversary state.

Few of us are great at admitting wrongs. Politicians have a particularly hard time with it. It’s entirely beyond Trump’s ability. You might as well ask him to levitate.

The other reason is more important, both because it goes deeper and sheds light on how we got into the current situation in the first place. The idea that someone could offer you something of value and you would not take it is utterly alien to Trump. He is all appetite and avarice without constraint or rules, all id and no super ego. This has always struck me as the essence of what happened in 2016. The idea that it could be wrong to take certain advantages just wouldn’t occur to Trump or those around him.

This part of the exchange doesn’t sound rehearsed or for effect. It reads as deeply genuine. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.”

Repeatedly and in the last line here Trump has the tone mobsters often take talking about civilian law-abiding norms. Basically, it’s for chumps. Or as Colonel Jessup says in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.”

Masthead Masthead
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