What did Donald Trump say when confronted with proof that his son jumped at the prospect of meeting with a "Russian government attorney" offering to dish dirt on Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support" for his candidacy?
Mr. Trump said "many people would have held that meeting."
The next day, Mr. Trump revised "many" to "most," saying: "I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. ... Politics isn't the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard."
It's true that politics isn't the nicest business in the world. I've been there. Real estate development isn't the nicest business in the world either, for all I know. But breaking the law and flirting with treason isn't standard practice in either realm.
Much ink has been spilled over the last six months documenting Mr. Trump's tin ear when it comes to all matters ethical: his refusal to put his business into a blind trust, as every one of his predecessors in recent memory has done; his refusal to reveal his tax returns, like his predecessors; the never-ending stream of lies that he continues to spew even after they're proven to be lies (3 million to 5 million fraudulent votes, Obama spied on me, fake news, etc.).
None of this is "very standard" for presidents. It's the opposite of standard.
I think we've been missing the boat by characterizing these as ethical breaches. Ethics assumes some sort of agreed-upon standard against which an ethical breach can be defined and measured.
But Mr. Trump doesn't live in a world that has any standards at all, and he never has. His entire approach to life, to business and now to the presidency has nothing whatever to do with standards. It's about winning at all costs. Whatever it takes.
Winning at all costs is the only thing that's standard in Trumpworld.
When he was in business and couldn't repay his creditors, he declared bankruptcy. Again and again. And when his bankers finally wised up and refused to lend him any more money, he found foreign bankers who would oblige.
When he could have chosen to pay his contractors or others who worked for him, he didn't. He stiffed them.
Mr. Trump has spent most of his life in business being sued or suing — as if our judicial system was just another standard tool for winning.
To make a name for himself in politics, he suggested Barack Obama wasn't born in America. Hey, whatever it took.
To win the presidency, he told lies about undocumented immigrants and crime, about Arabs cheering as the World Trade Center went down, about his business smarts. He promised his followers he'd jail Hillary Clinton, drain the Washington swamp, build a wall along the Mexican border, create vast numbers of jobs, repeal the North American Free Trade Act.
He'd lie about anything. He'd promise anything. All was just a means to becoming president. There were no standards. Whatever it took.
"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," he said.
Did he collude with Russia to become president? That wouldn't be standard practice in politics, but it would be consistent with Mr. Trump's standard.
"I said [to Putin] 'Did you do it?'" Mr. Trump reported back on his meeting with Vladimir. "And he said, 'No, I did not. Absolutely not.' I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not."
And that's supposed to be the end of it?
The U.S. intelligence community has told Mr. Trump that Russia interfered on his behalf in the presidential election of 2016, at Mr. Putin's direction. So why does Mr. Trump ask Mr. Putin if he did it?
He should be telling Mr. Putin what the United States is planning to do in response to what Mr. Putin did.
We may never know the exact answer to whether Mr. Trump himself colluded with Mr. Putin to win the presidency. Or, more likely, his core supporters may never know, because Mr. Trump will tell them not to believe whatever special counsel Robert Mueller and the intelligence agencies come up with, and to blame the press for reporting fake news. Politics isn't the nicest business in the world, he might say, but whatever he did was very standard.
A president's major responsibilities are to protect the United States and the Constitution, and to see that the laws are faithfully executed.
But Mr. Trump's major goal now is to remain in power and to accumulate even more money. Whatever it takes.
Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. His new film, "Inequality for All," is now out on iTunes, DVD and On Demand. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.