Talking Points

Why the Trump toilet story (unfortunately) still matters

Did former President Donald Trump really clog White House toilets by flushing official documents? His aides certainly thought so, journalist Maggie Haberman reports in her forthcoming book. Trump denies the story. But the anecdote rings true — if only as a metaphor for his misbegotten presidency.

The toilet story is the cherry on top of a week's worth of revelations about how Trump routinely mishandled his administration's records. He would tear up documents, forcing federal archivists to literally tape them back together. He took 15 boxes of stuff — letters from Kim Jong Un, that infamous Sharpie map — home to Mar-a-Lago instead of turning it over to the National Archives, as required by law. Some of the material was apparently classified. Investigations are now underway.

The "but her emails" crowd is howling, as you might imagine.

And that's fair. Trump really did ride to the presidency in 2016 on the back of revelations that Hillary Clinton used a private email server to conduct official business while she was secretary of state. Democrats have spent the last half-dozen years grumbling that the investigation and media coverage of a relatively minor misstep prevented the election of America's first woman president and instead put a dishonest grifter in office. But Trump's hypocrisy on that front has been known for awhile now. For the former president, standards are for other people.

What's really interesting about the recent stories is not the rule-breaking, then, but what they reveal about Trump's overall mindset in the presidency. A born narcissist, he never did distinguish between his personal business and the country's interests, between public service and his private desires. It all got mushed up together, usually to Trump's benefit and America's disadvantage.

It's why he refused to divest his assets when he became president. It's why the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. became for a few years the hottest spot in town for foreign diplomats and assorted influence peddlers. It's why he mostly treated the pandemic as an election obstacle and not as the public health crisis it actually was. And it's why he tried to upend the 2020 presidential election — he sincerely believed the White House was his to keep. 

So it's no wonder Trump took all those boxes home to Florida, or that he treated official documents so casually. It was all his stuff, right? Except it wasn't. It belonged to the American public.

This might not be worth getting terribly worked up over. There are a lot of Trump scandals, after all, and one must prioritize. But Trump remains the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. What's past is prologue. The former president is not trying to return to public service — it's not clear he even understands the concept. He's simply trying to reclaim what's his.