When history looks back for a signature week of the Trump presidency, Christmas 2020 may win the prize.
There was a pattern, and likely foreshadowing of a chaotic month to come: Political disorder, norm demolition and unrelenting indifference to others from a truth-negating president.
Just look at the week’s five major events and Trump’s responses:
1. Russia’s Cyber-Attack:
On December 19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Russians were behind a massive cyber-attack on American government and business.
What explains this stunning failure to defend America from Russia’s virtual “declaration of war?”
It’s the same reason Trump sided with Putin and against his own intelligence community at the July 2018 Helsinki summit, asserting that Russia was not responsible for 2016’s presidential election interference: Naked self-interest.
Trump serving his self-interest
Whether or not Putin has damaging information on Trump, a Moscow hotel has long been his dream. Today it surely plays an outsized role in his thinking about life after 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The deal never went through. Ultimately, Putin knew the value of keeping the carrot in front of the donkey.
If your lifelong ambition were to build a Moscow skyscraper with your name atop, would you attack the Russian president who controlled the permit?
2. The White House cabal.
On Dec. 22, Trump met in the White House with a cast of fringe characters including confessed criminal Michael Flynn, his lawyer, Sidney Powell, and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
Powell has distinguished herself by floating conspiracy theories so wild in November she got dropped from Trump’s legal team.
Byrne admitted in 2019 to an affair with Russian intelligence asset, Maria Butina, now expatriated to her homeland after serving federal time.
The still-tethered Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone “ended the meeting when it started heading in an alarming direction.” Their concerns reverberated across an already shaken nation.
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3. COVID relief.
On Dec. 22, Congress finally adopted a $908 billion COVID stimulus package, including $600 payments to individuals earning under $75,000 per year. The White House signaled that the president would sign the bill.
Hours later, Trump pulled the rug out, tweeting that relief checks were too small. But any president who cared would have spoken up when it mattered — while the bill was being debated.
Trump promptly flew to Mar-a-Lago, leaving a hot mess on a hurting nation’s porch until he finally signed it late Dec. 27th.
Why the unnecessary drama? Explanations center on revenge for Mitch McConnell’s telling Republicans not to contest President-elect Biden’s win.
Same presidential character: Personal pique and pleasure watching those he felt had crossed him —along with suffering citizens — hang in the wind.
4. The $740 million Defense Authorization Act.
On Dec. 23, Trump stirred more turmoil, vetoing the massive defense bill. Republican Senate Arms Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe protested: “The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops.”
No matter to the president as he headed south to golf. As George Conway tweeted, “He just wants to break stuff on the way out.”
What better things to break than troops’ pay hikes and national security?
Trump just working to ruin as much on his way out as he can
5. Christmas Pardon Giveaway.
Instead, Trump has rewarded the corrupt, the complicit and the cold-blooded. Trump “granted mercy” to:
► Jared Kushner’s convicted father, who — to blackmail his sister and her husband before their planned testimony against him — hired a prostitute to seduce the husband, then sent the sex video-tape to the sister;
► The Blackwater mercenaries who machine-gunned 17 Iraqi innocent civilians, including a 9-year-old boy in the back seat of his father’s car;
► Roger Stone, who lied to Congress to cover up his 2016 campaign role as go-between for Trump and Wikileaks;
► Former Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, following their 2019 convictions for spending campaign funds on family vacations and bar tabs.
As Professor Goldsmith put it in a tweet, “It’s the pardon power unleashed to serve private gratification, score-settling and eye-poking.”
That tweet perfectly summarizes the presidential week that was. In the days before Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, expect arson from America’s nihilist-in-chief, thrilled to be watching the flames.
Edward Larson, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author of “The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States 1783-1789,” is University Professor at Pepperdine University; Austin Sarat (@ljstprof) is associate dean of the faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College; Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor and Supreme Court advocate who writes on national affairs.