Opinion

The secret to Trump's scandals is there's no secret

The president's malfeasance is so flagrant that it seems, to some, innocuous

President Trump doesn't think bad things are bad when he does them.

Before the White House released the Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump tweeted, "Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call — got them by surprise!"

Trump thinks the memorandum is beneficial to him even though it contains damaging information suggesting a quid pro quo between the two leaders — incriminating information on Joe Biden in exchange for U.S. military aid.

"The United States has been very, very good to Ukraine," Trump told Zelensky. "I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine."

Later, Trump said, "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it."

This is as close as it gets to showing a quid pro quo short of Trump saying, "This is a quid pro quo." Indeed, it's not so much a quid pro quo as a quid amateur quo: an act of malfeasance so flagrant that it seems, to some, innocuous. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called it "a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger." Vice President Mike Pence said, "As the President said a week ago, he did nothing wrong." Because Trump sees nothing wrong with it, neither do his supporters. As The Atlantic's David Frum observed, "Trump takes advantage of a human tendency to think, If he's not ashamed, maybe he did nothing wrong."

The most scandalous thing about Trump's scandals is that he perpetrates them in plain view. He recently said that he never said he would meet with Iran's leaders without preconditions — even though he said on television that he would meet them without preconditions. He asked the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails on live television. He admitted to Lester Holt on television that he fired former FBI Director James Comey because of "this Russia thing." Trump gets away with shameful things by being so shameless about doing them.

His shamelessness has rubbed off on his aides. Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, testified under oath that he had "no obligation to be honest with the media." Lewandowski was, as Politico's Jack Shafer put it, "honest about his dishonesty."

Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, went on TV last week and made a similarly audacious confession. After denying that he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, Giuliani, when pressed on the matter 30 seconds later, exclaimed, "Of course I did!"

Like their boss, Trump's henchmen are boastful of their misdeeds.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was right when he described Trump in 2016 as "utterly amoral." Trump doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. That's why he keeps doing scandalous things in the open — because he doesn't know they're scandalous.

Trump's supporters tolerate his depravity because it's genuine. Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted last year: "Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant. @realDonaldTrump has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is 'presidential' from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth."

Trump was right when he said his supporters wouldn't mind if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. In the Trump era, committing crimes in public is more acceptable than committing them in secret. We are more eager to convict someone if we find a smoking gun hidden in the woods than if the perpetrator hands it to us and confesses to "a perfect murder."

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