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The 'unbelievable' saga of President Trump


This feels worse than Nixon.

The Watergate scandal was riveting, sure. And if we'd known then what we know now about Nixon's emotional instability, we'd have been more troubled than we were.

Watergate did involve a president who lied – about a burglary – and tried to obstruct justice, but that was nothing like this. Nixon was nothing like Trump.

Best we can tell, Trump has stayed on script so far on his trip to the Middle East. But I don't find much comfort in that.

For the past few days, he has sounded like a friend of all religions and people. "Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent from hatred," he said in Saudi Arabia.

But at home, in word and deed, he has whipped up hatred against Muslims. He wanted to ban Muslims from entering the US. And as Jesse Singal noted in New York magazine earlier this week, his advisers include anti-Muslim extremists and conspiracy theorists.

We have no idea what Donald Trump really believes. It's uncertain whether even he knows what he believes one day to the next.

Are there ties between him and the Russians? Even if there aren't, we know that at the least, he personally disclosed classified information in his meeting with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak.

Does that photograph of Lavrov and Trump, taken by the Russian news agency, show Lavrov laughing at a shared joke in the company of his good friend Donald Trump? Or does it show Lavrov reveling in the pleasure of playing the president for a fool?

It hardly matters, does it?

"I just cannot overstate how unbelievable, literally, this administration has become," commentator Mark Shields said on last Friday's NewsHour.

As Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon noted in the Times on Sunday: "A president's greatest asset is trust. Once he has lost it, he can't govern."

Maybe his supporters still trust him. But it's doubtful many foreign leaders do. I can't imagine that many Republicans in Congress do; more likely, they're crossing their fingers as they try to use him for their own purposes.

Worst of all, perhaps: it's inconceivable that the US intelligence agencies trust him. Then what? At what point do they stop telling him what they know? Are they, Mike Pence, and others already doing a work-around?

A topic of dinner-table conversations, phone conversations, and multiple casual conversations with friends over the past few days: Is it better to have him out now, or closer to the midterm elections?


Donald Trump's problems have mounted at absolutely dizzying speed. And yet, as we know, if he leaves – through whatever constitutional mechanism – we get Mike Pence.

As president, Pence would have no problem appointing a Jeff Sessions as attorney general. No problem putting a Betsy DeVos in charge of education. And the Republicans in Congress would be delighted to have Pence as president, supporting their agenda on tax cuts, health care, immigration, the environment, abortion, education, criminal justice.

In their article in the Times on Sunday, Posner and Bazelon raise a sobering question: What do Congress, the federal courts, and federal agencies do "when the president himself is the pressing danger?"

One encouraging sign – I guess – is that there seem to be people in the administration who are so worried about Trump that they're risking prison to tell reporters what they're seeing. Classified information is being leaked by government staff, in violation of the law.

An FBI official's leaks to the Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon. And now, David Brooks said on the NewsHour, there are leaks in the Trump administration, seemingly "in every closet and behind every desk."

What we are watching, Brooks said, "is a dissolution of an administration."

This is worse than Nixon. And it's not good for the country.