It is too early to conclude that Donald Trump is the worst president ever. But it's not too early to conclude that he is the worst person ever to be president. Two stories that broke within hours of each other make that clear. One is about how far he will go to achieve business success, the other about how far he will go to achieve political success. In neither case will he let morality, ethics or even the law itself stand in his way.
First, the New York Times published a 14,000-word expose that accused Trump of massive fraud against both the IRS and the American people. Trump's business and political career has been built on his reputation as a self-made billionaire. It is the reason so many other developers paid him for the use of his name, why so many viewers tuned into his show "The Apprentice," and why so many voters entrusted him with the presidency.
It has long been known in general terms that Trump has vastly exaggerated his wealth and business acumen. In April, The Washington Post ran an opinion article about how he inflated his net worth to land on the Forbes 400 list, and his six corporate bankruptcies testify that he is no business genius. But the Times provides hitherto unknown details that demolish whatever remains of his business reputation.
Trump has admitted to getting only a $1 million start-up loan from his father, Fred Trump - mere peanuts, he said. Turns out there were hundreds of millions of those peanuts. According to the Times, his father bankrolled him to the tune of more than $413 million and provided crucial loan guarantees to rescue him from his corporate bankruptcies. The Times article makes clear that there was only one business genius in the Trump family, and his name was Fred.
The article also implicates the president in a plot to defraud the U.S. Government of hundreds of millions of dollars of inheritance taxes: "The president's parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over US$1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least US$550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances. The Trumps paid a total of US$52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show."
You can bet that the Times's lawyers went over the article carefully before making such an explosive allegation against the president and felt confident enough to publish. Notwithstanding blustery denials from the White House, the weight of evidence suggests that there is good cause to think the president is a crook. This is, of course, far from the first credible allegation of illegality against the president. Just six weeks ago, Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies and implicated Trump in the commission of two of them - arranging payoffs in violation of federal campaign finance laws to a porn star and a Playboy model.
Beyond Trump's reported violations of the law, there are his regular violations of the norms of human decency. How low can he go? That's the question in the second story, which also broke yesterday. The man who has previously mocked a disabled reporter, Gold Star parents and POWs has now mocked a woman for saying she was the victim of a sexual assault. Trump had previously said that he had found Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, to be a "credible witness" who gave "compelling testimony." But at a rally on Tuesday night in Mississippi, he abandoned this unaccustomed restraint and let his inner cave man out for a romp.
Trump attacked Ford for not remembering all the details of the trauma that she says she suffered: "I had one beer. Well, do you think it was - nope, it was one beer. How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know." His heartless japery was greeted with laughter from his cult followers - the same kind of contemptuous laughter that Ford remembers hearing after her alleged assault at the hands of a youthful Kavanaugh. It is impossible to disagree with the rejoinder of Ford's lawyer, Michael Bromwich, who tweeted that this was "a vicious, vile and soulless attack."
These Terrible Tuesday news items confirm what we already know about Trump: that he is a liar, a cheat and a bully without an ounce of dignity, empathy or decency. In place of his soul he has a black hole. The only way he can make himself feel better - to fill the emptiness inside - is to abuse those weaker than himself. He is a monster.
I am old enough to remember when Republicans would have been scandalised. Back in 1998, in "The Death of Outrage," arch-scold Bill Bennett wrote about Bill Clinton that "a president whose character manifested itself in patterns of reckless personal conduct, deceit, abuse of power and contempt for the rule of law cannot be a good president. . . . The values-free standard 'effectiveness in office' cannot - it must not - trump everything else."
Trump is far less effective a president than Bill Clinton, who banned assault weapons, reformed welfare and balanced the federal budget. Yet Republicans are willing to forgive him far more than Democrats ever forgave Clinton. For the GOP, loyalty to its odious leader trumps everything else, even the most basic dictates of humanity. Trump has forfeited our trust, and his Republican enablers have forfeited their right to rule.