Alternative Fact of the Week: Trump as history's most victimized president
May 18, 2017 | 1:56 PM
Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has been appointed independent special prosecutor in the Justice Department investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (May 17, 2017)
One newspaper editor described him as a "Simple Susan." A popular magazine wrote that he should be wearing petticoats instead of "manly garments." After one speech, The Baltimore Sun derided him as a "barroom Phunny Phellow" whatever that means. He was deeply unpopular, and an Ohio newspaper editorialized that he would soon be proclaimed a dictator because his signature executive order bypassing Congress (a document called the Emancipation Proclamation) would only be carried out "under the iron rule of the worst kind of despotism."
The politician so reviled by the press was, of course, Abraham Lincoln, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. He was not just hated by the South but many Northerners viewed him suspiciously as well as soon as he took office. And that's just one president. Even George Washington, perhaps the nation's most revered political figure, received his share of negative press, including accusations that he wanted to return the U.S. to a monarchy.
Given that well-documented history, President Donald Trump's claim at Wednesday's U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation in New London, Conn., that "no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly" earns Alternative Fact of the Week honors. While there is a subjective element here (assessing unfairness requires the double-barreled action of judging both truth and nastiness across centuries of American history), the evidence to counter the president's view is simply too overwhelming to ignore.
The context of the remark was certainly clear enough. President Trump feels persecuted, and he hasn't been shy about saying so. After taking so much heat over his firing of FBI Director James Comey, he told NBC's Lester Holt one week ago that the "Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won." Six days later, he was still in full victimhood — live-whining on Twitter, presumably in reaction to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian hacking into the last election, that he's been subjected to the "single greatest witch hunt of a politician" in American history.
Leaving aside bigger witch hunts (from actual witch hunts in colonial Massachusetts to the post-World War II Joseph McCarthy variety), it's simply untrue that Russian involvement in the last election is a fabrication of the opposition party. Top intelligence agencies have pointed the finger at the Russians. Just two months ago, Mr. Comey revealed an FBI investigation into the hacking was launched last summer calling it the result of a "credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power."
Democrats didn't cause Mr. Trump to surround himself with people with financial ties to Vladimir Putin's government, including Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. In fact, Barack Obama counseled against Mr. Flynn's hiring. Nor was it a member of the opposition party who fired Mr. Comey mid-investigation or allegedly asked him not to investigate Mr. Flynn or who leaked highly classified material to top Russian officials. And, of course, it wasn't a Democratic appointee who hired former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel for the Russia investigation. That was Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Trump's pick for the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Justice, a former U.S. attorney for Maryland first appointed to that job by a Republican president named George W. Bush. (A president about whom a fair number of nasty things were also said.)
If Mr. Trump insists on drawing on history to describe his plight, he ought to stick to a claim that can be verified. Here's a suggestion: No president has ever been scrutinized by a special counsel or prosecutor appointed by his own administration so soon after taking office. It's objective, it's honest, and it's fair without prejudging the outcome. And it might still be a nicer thing to have said about you by the press (or anyone else) than to be called a Simple Susan.