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Because of President Trump’s absence of downward loyalty, his elevation of the morally impaired and his encouragement of staff factionalism, his administration will produce any number of damaging memoirs and leak-filled exposes. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” is the latest in this genre, but surely not the last.

Michael Gerson mug

Michael Gerson

Yet what is most striking about Wolff’s book is its superfluity. We do not require a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s instability, childishness and narcissism, because he provides revelations about his fragile state of mind nearly every day. Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

If many of the statements Trump has made publicly in the last few weeks were contained in a tell-all, we would suspect the author of malicious exaggeration. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,” attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes, urged “Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists, claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” re-election to keep up their ratings, displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health reform plan, claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming, boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un, tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book, and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

The intimacy of Twitter — providing daily and sometimes hourly updates on the state of Trump’s mind — has encouraged a question: Is the president reaching some kind of psychological breaking point? That is difficult to diagnose from afar. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

We have almost too much information in assessing Trump’s stability and fitness for high office. His combination of transgression and transparency is numbing. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick. Even the most easily alarmed among us have come to discount outlandish and offensive things.

But what if we took this seriously? What should we learn from the tell-all that Trump himself has authored?

The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation. He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate. The Chinese have made an art of this — ushering Trump toward regional irrelevance on a red carpet. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

In addition, Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,” he argues. Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned. Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired. Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

Trump’s defenders point to the absence of oppression as proof that these concerns are overblown. But protecting legal and political institutions from executive assault has been the constant vigil of the last year — as it will be for the next three. And we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

All this presents a particular problem for elected Republicans. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team. So GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader. I empathize with their political dilemma. But they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then the country may not be in a forgiving mood.

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Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson can be reached at michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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(12) comments

new2Lax

The fact that this guy has a history of lying, making innuendo into facts doesn’t bother you clowns. I always thought the source was so important, I guess you have made some exceptions in this piece. You would think getting burned on the dossier, Russian collusion would have taught 6ou something.

kingman10

oh you are so right new2. This guy you are referring to, that has a history of lying, making innuendo into facts fits Trump to a tee! But I guess you make exceptions when it comes to a certain political party that in your eyes can do no wrong.

awol2009

Great point, old homey. The GOP won't get rid of him until they destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and all other social safety nets for the poor, elderly, and working poor. tRump is just their tool. to pass alt-right agendas. They know he's nuts and they are exploiting his insanity to get what they want. The writing has been in the wall for quite a while now.

oldhomey

Agreed.

oldhomey

Absolutely brilliant column filed with irrefutable observation. When is the GOP going to find its spine and stand up to this monster?

geo

Which Gerson column is your favorite or do you find most brilliant? "The moral authority of the presidency is in tatters"(12/21/17), "The Russia investigation’s spectacular accumulation of lies"(11/16/17), "Trump's problem is not communication. It's leadership"(7/26/17),or" An uncertain Trump and his dysfunctional White House staff"(4/10/17)? Gerson has a theme that he revisits frequently but do you think that despite his irrefutable observations and brilliant writing that that most people find him to be just an unconvincing, sniveling never-Trumper, boring and perhaps just a tad unhinged? Trump Derangement Syndrome is quite widespread; Gerson may have it and perhaps you do too.

kingman10

oh I'll take all of Gerson's columns and match them against any of Lowry, or Flowers or any other right wing nut columnist. Trump derangement is something he brings upon himself on a daily basis. Being the "very stable genius" he claims to be he should be able to figure that out. Seems like you can't either. Trump derangement syndrome is anything you catch, its what you observe with this president, and realize that the white house has turned into an adult day care facility. Thank you senator Flake!

oldhomey

Well, geo, when do you think Trump will stop lying? Perhaps then Gerson will begin to take what this president says and does seriously. When do you think the White House staff he has assembled will start working as a unit, working smartly to put into effect the well-reasoned, carefully crafted agenda crafted by the president? Oops. The Trump White House staff is a menagerie of strange bedfellows who do not get along and apparently don't like or trust their boss, and for apparent good reason, partially because the president has never had an agenda or even a simple plan beyond the surprise and shock he still seems to be in for being president. If he could get beyond that, perhaps Gerson might take a look at what, after a year in office, Trump has never displayed -- leadership. Can you offer one example of him offering any inspiration and/or direction to his troops beyond "you guys do it, bring the bill, and I will sign it." I don't know the people you hang around with, but if they find Gerson to be unconvincing and sniveling, I would seriously question their critical abilities. There is a Trump Derangement Syndrome, indeed, and it manifests itself in the man in the White House every single day.

Rick Czeczok

"You guys do it" isn't that the way it is supposed to be legislated? Did I miss something in the constitution. Obama didn't believe in the constitution and thought he knew more then anyone, thus his pen in hand illegal bills. Let the process do what it is supposed to. That's what I believe.

oldhomey

Well, Rick, most presidents that I have lived through and most of those that I have read about in history are remembered for their ability to set an agenda -- an outline -- of where they want to take the country, including ideas of how the government can act to make lives of all its citizens better, whether it is in providing community health measures like clean water, access to health care, or new and safe medications, or building an Interstate highway system, or rules regulating airline operations or radio/television outlets, or the safety and fairness of our workplaces, or protecting our right to vote. Most of the ideas behind these came through the push of the executive branch, the legislative branch tending to the details with the White House administrators riding herd through the entire process. Do you have a different take on this? Beyond saying he wants a "wall", which precious few congressmen want to fund or see built -- for good reason -- have you seen our current president come up with any actual policy plan? Tell us about the broad overview he presented for wanting a tax cut. I don't recall him saying much, except wanting the cuts that would most enrich him, corporate taxes, to be cut even more severely than what congress would allow.

Tim Russell

Wolff's book is just the first of many to come.

PhysicsIsFun

President Donal Trump via Twitter, "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart ... not smart but genius ... and a very stable genius at that."

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