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The Significance of Sharpiegate

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I’m considering making this my weekly op/ed for the newspapers in my very red — Trump-supporting — congressional district (VA-06).

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I thought that too much was being made of Trump’s gaffe about Alabama being threatened by hurricane Dorian. OK, so Trump made a mistake. OK, so he often shows a level of ignorance and carelessness with information that we are not used to seeing in a President.

We don’t need to pile on, I thought, about some relatively trivial presidential gaffe. We’ve got plenty of other things to worry about.

But then came the aftermath, with Trump tweeting repeatedly to make himself out to have been right, and the “Fake News” being the ones that were wrong. And then came that ludicrous map — which was already days out of date anyway — on which Trump had added a line with his Sharpie to include some of Alabama.

And finally — one hopes! — we had officials at NOAA, under apparent pressure from the White House, making a statement in support of Trump’s error, upsetting the experts at the National Weather Service whose business is using meteorological science to serve the public and who hate to see their institutions damaged by the politicization of their important work.

What all that reveals is not the least bit trivial: It reveals a President incapable of admitting a mistake, incapable of backing down even when it’s required. And, more than that, so completely swept up in protecting his ego that he doesn’t hesitate to damage the nation to serve his own needs.

What makes this episode important is not that these are new discoveries about the President, but that never have these aspects of the President’s character been revealed in such ludicrously stark fashion. No alternative interpretations are possible.

Even Trump’s supporters should be able to grasp those conclusions, and to use them to illuminate both what Trump has already done as President and what we have reason to fear he will do.

What’s been the biggest issue that Trump has repeatedly put front and center? Arguably, it’s the Wall.

Trump made the Wall his signature issue in the campaign. Even though reality obliterated his repeated promises that “Mexico will pay for the Wall,” Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid admitting that the Wall is a loser of an idea.

Never mind that Congress — even a Republican-controlled Congress– would not fund the Wall. Trump was willing to shut down the government for weeks to force Congress to back him up.

Never mind that the laws of eminent domain require certain procedures to be followed before land can be seized from citizens. Trump has apparently sought to have the land just seized, while promising to issue pardons to those who follow his unlawful orders.

Never mind that the Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power of the purse. Trump declared a bogus “national emergency” that even he admitted was no emergency (“I didn’t have to do this”) to avoid having to concede — as every President has had to do on one matter or another — that he would not get his way.

So here we are now with funds appropriated for the U.S. military to use in various designated ways being taken by the President to build the Wall he’s staked so much of his own status on.

And it’s not as though the Wall itself would serve any national interest: the consensus opinion of experts in the field is that the Wall would solve no problems for the United States.

This whole drama over the Wall has nothing to do with serving the needs of the nation. It is, rather, like Sharpiegate, all about the President serving his own needs, whatever the damage it does to our national institutions and constitutional order.

Looking into the future, it now appears more probable than not that Trump will be a one-term President. Impeachment is unlikely to remove him from office, but the polls suggest that it is also unlikely that Trump will be able to repeat the Electoral College victory he eked out in 2016.

How do you suppose the man who could not admit something so trivial as his misspeaking about the hurricane would deal with the much more serious rejection and defeat that he might suffer at the hands of the American electorate?

In my lifetime, I’ve seen Presidents Ford, Carter and the first Bush lose their bids for re-election. All of them dealt with that defeat gracefully, because they all respected the constitutional order whereby power is assigned. You win some, you lose some– but one accepts the outcome win or lose.

The man who degrades NOAA to protect his ego, who tramples on the constitutional separation of powers rather than admit that Congress has blocked him from getting his way– what would that man not do rather than admit that he’s been the loser in a free election?