Trump's credibility chasm

In the two short months of Donald Trump's presidency so far, Republicans and Democrats alike have managed to reduce American politics to a bipartisan laughingstock.

Starting with Mr. Trump, he has devalued the truth with his serial falsehoods about matters significant and trifling, from his unproved declaration that the election was rigged to his quibbling over the size of his inauguration crowd.

He has disparaged all who have dared to disagree with him and has waged a war of words with the nation's news media. He has denounced them as "the enemies of the people" for challenging and exposing his numerous and blatant errors and distortions of fact.

As a leading purveyor of what he likes to call "fake news," Mr. Trump has intentionally muddied the distinction between fact-checked verities and manufactured whoppers and whole-cloth rumors.

He has transparently engaged in bigotry that has poured combustible hate-mongering onto a gullible citizenry, in the name of making America great again.

Perhaps worst of all, he has demonstrated contempt for the American system of self-government. His abysmal ignorance of how it works is obvious, and he treats it as a personal plaything, all the while spewing his impulsive and simplistic impressions via the shorthand idiocy of Twitter.

His successful takeover of the Republican Party, through a combination of snake-oil salesmanship and disparagement of its well-meaning if often inept officials, has left the once Grand Old Party in a shambles of uncertainty and confusion. And there is no other prospective leader in sight.

The same also can be said to a degree of the rival Democratic Party. Its 2016 standard-bearer has become almost a political pariah to many voters of both parties. Meanwhile, its still popular former president is in largely silent retirement, awaiting esteem for his legacy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has shown that his cut-throat business deal-making is wholly unfit for governing the world's leading democracy, as was evident in the humiliating collapse of the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. This was Mr. Trump's most significant domestic initiative, and it proved to be a dismal failure, smacking of political amateurism.

In foreign policy, his mindless meddling with NATO, the Cold War bulwark of Western solidarity, has threatened to diminish American global leadership. Then there is Mr. Trump's unfathomable bromance with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

The current botching by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election is yet another element in the bizarre and credibility-shattering experience of the circus that has put Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.

The same has been true of his first efforts at immigration reform, rebutted by federal judges standing up to what they have labeled abuse of the Constitutional protection of religious freedom.

The spontaneous protests against Mr. Trump's ascendency are clear and growing evidence of resistance to this political pied piper who takes dead aim at the entrenched two-party establishment.

With his personal boldness and guile, Mr. Trump has capitalized on public disappointment and anger toward the status quo, delivering the political nightmare in which the American democracy now finds itself.

So far, there seems no certain path open to those who would extricate the country from the dilemma of Mr. Trump's ascendancy. His personal behavior and reckless style seem not yet to rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Not even his family's defiance of financial prohibitions against accepting foreign "emoluments" appear at this early time to offer an actionable conflict of interest.

But his severest critics already argue that the erosion of Mr. Trump's personal credibility signals much trouble ahead, as his word and actions will eventually destroy the key imperative of trust in working with allies and foes at home and abroad.

Of course, this headstrong and supremely self-confident new president still has plenty of time to disprove that negative contention. Yet the notion that this particular tiger will somehow soon change his stripes itself severely strains credibility.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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