The genius of an Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson would be insufficient to juggle the multiple crises facing the current president over the past week.
There is the poison gas attack in Syria; a looming trade war with the world’s second-biggest economy, China; a criminal probe involving both the president and his longtime personal lawyer; and the resignation of the Republican speaker of the House, the man chiefly responsible for passing the president’s signature accomplishment, tax reform.
How much worse, then, that President Donald Trump is no Lincoln or Jefferson but a narcissistic, impulsive man who knows little history, refuses to take advice from those who do, gets his policy briefings from Fox News talking heads and uses Twitter as his preferred method of issuing policy directives and executing foreign policy.
We live in dangerous times, grown exponentially more dangerous because no one in President Trump’s orbit is willing to take him on. He has fired much of his national security team and picked replacements based on their willingness to flatter him and defend him on TV.
In the balance hang peace in the Middle East, a nuclear threat from North Korea and a potential economic crisis if he persists in his trade war folly. We have never been in such a perilous place with someone so inept in dealing with complexity.
And all of this is taking place against a backdrop of an investigation into whether candidate Trump or his campaign, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraged or assisted efforts by Russia to influence the presidential election and whether the president has obstructed justice in attempting to shut down the investigation.
In the days and weeks ahead, Trump may well fire Robert Mueller in hopes that removing the special counsel will end the inquiry into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign’s role or lack thereof. Apparently, that’s the counsel of former White House adviser turned guru to the alt-right in Europe Steve Bannon.
If Trump were to do so, he would provoke a constitutional crisis and his own undoing. The investigation into crimes would not disappear with the firing of Robert Mueller, nor would Trump or his campaign be out of the woods. Any criminal activity would still be prosecuted, and Democrats — whose likelihood of capturing the House, if not also the Senate, would rise dramatically after a Mueller firing — would lead the fight to impeach Trump.
Donald Trump is used to getting his way. He has always behaved as if he is entitled to do whatever he wants whenever he wants — and to whom he wants. No doubt he believed that becoming president would allow him to indulge his impulses on a grander scale. His campaign speeches were rife with plans to ban Muslims, build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, punish China, lock up Hillary Clinton, and gag the media with new libel laws. He thought he could bully courts and get Congress to do whatever he asked.
It was the same attitude he brought to his private life. “When you’re a star, they let you do … anything,” Trump told Billy Bush on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women.
But in our system, no man is above the law. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215, which recognized that even the king was bound by law. Donald Trump is bound by the Constitution, which he swore an oath to protect and defend. If he were to try to stop a legitimate and necessary investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in his campaign aided or abetted it, he would undermine the rule of law.
I doubt he cares — but he does care about his own survival. So he should know that firing Mueller would not save the Trump presidency but lead him to the inevitable ignominy of impeachment.
Linda Chavez serves on the board of Republicans for the Rule of Law and is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.
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