I’m a writer, not a lawyer. Sometimes I write political articles, sometimes boxing articles, but mostly I write novels. So I may not know the law, chapter and verse, but I do know something about character. The adage, like many adages, is true: Character is fate. In a novel, if a character acts “out of character” the reader will recognize something’s off. In real life, if a person acts out of character, something’s usually up.
To his credit, Donald Trump has remained consistent in his character. He may lie, he may stretch the truth as character Huck Finn accuses Mark Twain of doing, but Trump has always lied, always chiseled, always sought the headline no matter the dishonesty of its words.
But eventually, because character is fate, Trump’s character will create his own undoing. When history looks back, one seminal interaction may stand out as the moment Trump’s consistent character began a fated unraveling that ended in his impeachment, or worse.
On November 10, 2016, then-president Barack Obama met with newly-elected Donald Trump at the White House, a ritualistic show of peaceful baton-passing that remains one of America’s greatest virtues in a time of ever-dwindling greatness. The pictures of that day show smiles and awkward handshakes and, when the meeting ended, Trump left the White House singing Obama’s praises, which wasn’t an outright lie but a holding-pattern lie. At his core, the billionaire who started the birther conspiracy hated our first black president and Trump’s vitriol would reappear a few days later.
Donald Trump has spent his first year in office trying to undo everything Barack Obama did. He’s failed at many of these undoings. And he’s taken credit for many of Obama’s successes, including our relatively healthy economy, methodically put into play by our last president. Trump may be a builder, but he’s most at home with a wrecking ball in hand, narcissistically swinging at anything that’s a threat to his sense of self. And to Donald, anything Barack did or said was a threat.
One concrete piece of advice Obama gave Trump at their White House meeting was to steer clear of Michael Flynn. Flynn had served under Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, but during his tenure Flynn forged a reputation as a loose cannon. Obama warned Trump to beware that looseness. But Trump, always believing he’s the smartest man in the room because, after all, he’s a stable genius, refused to listen. Completely in character, operating from a position of know-it-all spite, Trump hired Flynn as National Security Adviser. This spit-in-the-eye will inevitably (fatefully) boomerang because the loose cannon has looser lips.
Trump has another character deficiency (among many). He can’t concentrate on details. Perhaps his inattention to the minutia of fine print is a testament to his genius — Trump’s mind is so often in the stratosphere, musing philosophically, the only details he can consider are financial ones, like paying a porn star 130 grand to keep her trap shut.
Unfortunately for Donald Trump, the law, like the devil, is in the details. And while Trump has operated above the law in his business dealings, it will be criminal if the United States allows him to operate above the law in his presidential dealings.
Let’s remember Trump’s tweet after he fired Michael Flynn: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.” Flynn was fired on February 13, 2017. FBI Director James Comey, who refused to promise loyalty to Trump (an under-handed but character-consistent request by the president) was fired on May 9, 2017. Trump’s tweet went out December 2, 2017. The timeline’s important. Donald Trump’s thoughtless yet genius-filled fingers tapped letter keys that basically spelled out he knew Flynn was lying at least as early as early December. Which means for almost ten months, Donald Trump sat on truth he should have revealed. And in the interim, he fired a man who had the power to seek out this truth. That looks like obstruction of justice.
It’s January 2018 and Robert Mueller is slowly but surely (that’s his character) putting together a case against Donald Trump, a case that will carefully bolster Trump’s careless tweet. (Trump must be nervous because, this just in, Trump ordered Mueller fired in June, a month after he fired Comey.) With each passing day and each passing headline, it appears the noose is getting tighter no matter what the Fox conspiracy theorists tell you. The he-doesn’t-know-any-better defense has worked to protect Trump on an array of bungled, apprentice actions during his first year as president, but this defense, which we will inevitably hear from Trump supporters and from the notorious blame-caster himself, needs to be ignored when Mueller delivers his final decree.
Donald Trump will say he was ignorant of the law (otherwise how could he have tweeted so freely). But that cannot and should not absolve him of guilt. If someone gets busted for possessing too much marijuana and says he didn’t know the legal limit, that’s not a defense. If someone commits a petty burglary and his partner in crime kills a bystander, and the non-violent offender claims innocence to accessory to murder because he didn’t know the law, that’s not a defense. If our president proclaims he didn’t obstruct justice because he didn’t read the legal fine print, that’s just too bad.
Character is fate. Donald Trump’s spitefulness fated him to hire Michael Flynn. Donald Trump’s sloppiness fated him to tweet what he tweeted. And when the verdict comes in, Donald Trump’s arrogance will fate him to defend himself and brand the whole criminal justice system corrupt. But finally, this cartoon of a man, this character, will fulfill his destiny. He’ll bring upon his own firing in the most humiliating way.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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