Last week, I wrote that every time you think Donald Trump has hit rock bottom, he digs an even deeper hole. This week, Trump reached magma.
On Monday, Trump was dragged kicking and screaming in front of television cameras to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va. — one of whom drove into a crowd of protesters, killing a young woman. The next day, in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York, he made clear how insincere those comments had been.
Trump said there are some “fine people” among a crowd of individuals who made Nazi salutes, chanted the slogan “Jews will not replace us” — we’re good, thanks — and marched in symbolic solidarity with a Southern traitor who shed the blood of actual American patriots in the defense of slavery and white supremacy. “Not all those people were neo-Nazis,” said Trump, “not all those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
He once again maintained that there is “blame on both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville though in his repeated attacks on the people he called the “alt-left” and in his passionate and lonely defense of the “alt-right,” er, neo-Nazis, it was crystal clear where his real allegiances lie.
In one respect, we should be grateful for the president’s unhinged performance. No longer do we need to deliberate over his true character and beliefs. We can just give up the ghost and acknowledge, as a nation, that the president of the United States is a racist. Period. He doesn’t just sympathize with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, he agrees with them.
What we saw Tuesday was not the sanitized Trump, reading poorly written and platitudinous speeches off the same teleprompters he decried when used by President Obama. Instead, we got the id of Trump. It’s what happens whenever Trump is given the opportunity to speak off the cuff and express his true feelings. We see the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, and the authoritarian leanings. We see the stunning ignorance of basic policy issues. We see the complete indifference to America’s democratic traditions, norms, and values.
We see the extreme and profound narcissism, like the extraordinary moment when Trump praised the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman killed in Charlottesville, because she said “the nicest things about me.” It was yet another dispiriting reminder that all Trump sees in other people is a reflection of himself. If they praise him or support him — like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville — they are fine people. If they say things about him that he doesn’t like — like the reporters who seek to hold him accountable for his words and deeds — they’re bad people. Everyone else is just an abstraction. They are people of little import to our president, because their lives and their experiences don’t give him an opportunity for his two most driving motivations: validation or retribution.
Then of course there are the things about Trump that we never see: the kind of moral leadership and basic decency that Americans have come to rightfully expect from their president. We don’t see a leader seeking to unify the nation and guide the American people through a difficult and disturbing moment. Indeed, since Saturday, Trump has at no point made any effort to speak to those citizens who fall outside his base of supporters.
How is an African-American, a Hispanic-American, a Jewish-American, or a gay American supposed to think of their nation and their president right now? Should they feel pride or fear that Trump had positive words for individuals whose primary political goal is to deny them not just their full civil rights, but also their dignity as citizens?
How about the millions upon millions of Americans who proudly and patriotically embrace the powerful founding words of our nation, that all men are created equal? How should they feel about a president who can’t speak out clearly and forcefully against bigotry and racism? Trump has no words for them and seemingly no interest in being their president.
And that really is the crux of the issue: if Trump can’t uphold, defend, and venerate our basic values as a nation, and if he can’t find the will or words to speak to all Americans, regardless of whether they’ve been nice to him, then, quite simply, he can’t be president.
A man who can’t exist beyond his own ego cannot effectively lead this nation.
Put aside for a moment Trump’s unceasing dishonesty, his lack of temperament or qualifications for the job he holds, and his ongoing and unabashed efforts to openly profit from being president, all of which would be reason enough to force him from office. This week we saw perhaps his greatest failing: an absolute and uncorrectable inability to be a leader.
Every day that he remains president is a day that further diminishes our values, our basic decency, and our nation as a whole. The time has come for every American, regardless of their partisan affiliation, to demand that he relinquish his office.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.