One of the most stunning features of Donald Trump’s presidency has been his complete and utter inability to anticipate the consequences of his actions more than about 30 seconds beyond the immediate gratification he gets from taking them.
Everyone in the world but Trump seemed to realize that his presidency had taken a very precarious turn the moment he fired former FBI director James Comey—press secretary Sean Spicer was hiding in the White House bushes, for god’s sake. And yet, there Trump was in the Oval Office with the Russians the very next day bragging that the pressure had really been “taken off.”
Of course, Trump’s decision to oust Comey triggered the appointment of special counsel Bob Mueller, which immediately escalated the profile of the investigation. But we also learned this week that Comey’s dismissal led to a reversal on the one point Trump has been totally obsessed with: his own exoneration.
Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.
Ever since the Russia investigation began, Trump has proven to be singularly focused on separating himself from his campaign—it may have done something wrong, but he didn’t. And he has persistently pestered investigators like Comey to publicize the fact that he personally wasn’t under scrutiny.
Well, now he is. And more than likely the fact that we even know this information is also the result Trump’s stunning lack of impulse control.
Just think about the timing of the leak regarding the obstruction investigation from the “five people briefed” on it—Wednesday evening. That report was hot on the heels of a Sunday-to-Monday news cycle in which Trump surrogates trashed Mueller and a Trump confidant added that the pr*sident was considering canning the special counsel.
By raising the profile of the investigation, leakers likely aimed to make firing Mueller a political land mine for Trump.
Trump, his own worst enemy, then slammed the investigation on Thursday morning as the “single greatest witch hunt” in America’s history, saying it was led by “bad and conflicted people”—(i.e. Mueller). He then circled back again Friday morning to blame Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his own predicament.
Trump really outdid himself there by managing to lie twice in the confines of 140 characters: Rosenstein isn’t investigating him, Mueller is; and by Trump’s own account, he had decided to fire Comey long before Rosenstein authored a memo that the White House originally said initiated Comey’s downfall.
What that means is, amid confirmation of an obstruction inquiry, Trump went straight back to Twitter to leave a few more bread crumbs for investigators on the path to his own guilt. (Psst, Trump, your vice president lawyered up this week, so did your personal lawyer, and your transition team has been told to preserve all transition materials related to Russia—it might be time to surrender the phone.)
But beyond the legal implications, Trump’s tirades along with those of his surrogates appeared to open up one of the first public rifts between Trump and congressional Republicans, who have until now worked overtime to stay out of Trump’s crosshairs. In the Senate, almost anyone who was asked expressed support for special counsel Mueller’s investigation and said he should be allowed to bring it to completion.
The GOP’s No. 3 in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, called Mueller a “man of integrity” and explicitly rejected the notion that a political “witch hunt” was under way. The No. 2, John Cornyn of Texas, said he saw “no reason” to fire Mueller, and even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed “a lot of confidence” in the special counsel.
The underlying message appeared to be, “Back off, Trump.”
And yet Trump, like a moth to the flame, may well float right into the middle of that dazzling blaze of yellow and blue light.
This pattern isn’t new. We have always known that Trump has unimaginably terrible judgment—that he not only has no long game, but his short game is indeed so short that he demonstrates the perplexing inability to see anywhere beyond the tip of his shoes. But this week made it strikingly clear that Donald Trump has an invariable “addiction to self-destructive behavior,” as former acting CIA director John McLaughlin observed on MSNBC.
Seeing the consequences of one’s actions—connecting one dot to the other—is the essence of judgment, and Trump has none. He is at once a bumbling fascination and the most dangerous man in the world given his position. Our country is currently strapped to the raging bullet of his every whim as it hurtles indiscriminately through the air.
We can only hope that America is able to eject before his mission of self destruction reaches its inevitable conclusion.