Every time you think that Donald Trump can’t paint a more vivid picture of his manifest unfitness to be president of the United States, he decides to break out the easel, palette, and canvas.
It’s not enough for the president to be implicated in a criminal conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws or for there to be substantial evidence that he obstructed justice on 10 separate occasions. Trump cannot help but take American democracy even further into the gutter.
The latest example is among the most disturbing of his presidency (which is saying something). In an Oval Office interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump was asked if his campaign would accept damaging information about his 2020 campaign rivals from a foreign government. Here was an opportunity for the president to separate himself from what happened during the 2016 election, when his son, campaign manager, and son-in-law infamously took a meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, and when he publicly asked the Russian government to find her allegedly missing emails.
Would his campaign, asked Stephanopoulos, hand over any such information to the FBI, or would they potentially use it? You absolutely will believe what happened next.
“I think maybe you do both,” said Trump. “I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
According to the president, “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it.” Members of Congress would do the same, he claimed. He even said the FBI director, Christopher Wray, was “wrong” for saying that if a foreign government approached a campaign with information, the campaign should turn it over to federal law enforcement.
For the president to suggest he would willingly take assistance from a foreign government to win an election is as close as you can get to unambiguously violating the presidential oath to protect and uphold the Constitution.
The only thing that is remarkable about this, however, is that Trump may have behaved even worse earlier in the week.
On Monday evening the Wall Street Journal reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam, who was murdered by North Korean operatives in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the nerve agent VX, was a source for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump’s response was to criticize the CIA for spying on Kim. “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices,” he said.
In effect, the president was defending the privacy of a sociopathic dictator who regularly assassinates his political enemies and keeps hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens in dystopian work camps. He was also undermining CIA efforts to gather information on one of the most dangerous regimes in the world.
Why would the president do such a thing? Because, it seems, he is in love. In the same breath in which he criticized American intelligence agencies, he hailed a “beautiful. . .very warm, very nice letter” he had recently received from Kim, which had him thinking “that something will happen that’s going to be very positive” between the two countries.
According to an unnamed administration official, the letter was actually a “birthday greeting” from Kim to Trump, who turned 73 on Friday.
Even more disturbing was Trump’s assertion the next day that North Korea is complying with agreements made between the two parties at the their summit last year in Singapore. That directly contradicted the president’s own national security advisor, John Bolton, who hours earlier said the exact opposite — that North Korea had not lived up its commitments.
What is clear from all this is that the president is willing to ignore North Korea’s defiant behavior and give the country a pass for violating agreements between the sides as long as Kim says nice things to him. In effect, Trump is ignoring America’s national security interests to mollify his tender ego. This would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous.
These latest outrages only magnify the point that has been obvious for years now: the president is unfit for office. His only loyalty is to himself and his ego. He has no ethical or moral core. He doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, only what’s best for him personally.
It’s exhausting to have to keep repeating these essential facts, but it’s still necessary. Because there is litttle reason to believe he will stop. Calling for the impeachment of Trump is no longer just about registering outrage over his actions. It’s no longer just a response to the criminality exposed in the Mueller Report. It’s about averting an ongoing crisis — and stopping the president from actively undermining national security and American democracy on a daily basis.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.