Trump’s victory lap: Let the vengeance begin
It was “the political equivalent of one of those mob-movie montages where the don’s enemies are gunned down to the accompaniment of an operatic score,” said Max Boot in The Washington Post. In the days following last week’s acquittal in the Senate on two articles of impeachment, an “unchastened, unchained, and unhinged” President Trump launched a blatant “campaign of revenge.” The ugliness began at the usually nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump dismissed a plea from Arthur C. Brooks, a renowned conservative and Catholic convert, for Americans to put aside partisan bitterness and heed Jesus’ call to love your enemies. “I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the podium, and unleashed a startling tirade against the “very dishonest and corrupt people” who voted to impeach him. He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of lying when she said that she had prayed for him. “I doubt she prays at all,” Trump sneered. In a clear shot at Sen. Mitt Romney—the lone Republican to vote for conviction—Trump condemned people who use their faith “as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” Later, Trump attacked impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as a “vicious” and “horrible” person who had “not paid the price, yet.” Hours later, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council (NSC) and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for testifying at the House inquiry. Vindman, who earned a Purple Heart in Afghanistan, was escorted off the White House grounds with his twin brother, Yevgeny, an NSC lawyer who was guilty only by association.
“This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something,” said Michael Gerson, also in The Washington Post. Trump’s “unholy outburst” at the prayer breakfast shows what grave danger America is in. Having survived the Russia investigation, and now House impeachment, he clearly “feels unchecked and uncheckable.” Clearly, “there are no guardrails” left, said Paul Brandus in USA Today. The day after Robert Mueller finished his investigation by giving muted House testimony, “this most lawless of presidents made that now infamous call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky” in which he asked for “a favor”—an investigation of Democrats that would help Trump win the 2020 election. As the election approaches, what will an “unfettered” Trump do?
Oh, “get a grip,” said David Harsanyi in NationalReview.com. It’s not as if the targets of Trump’s reprisals were political prisoners being rounded up in the dead of night and executed. Vindman, Sondland, and others served at the pleasure of the president and could be fired for any reason. Like former FBI Director James Comey, these poor victims will no doubt land lucrative book deals and TV gigs. Vindman knew the stakes when he testified, said Kaylee McGhee in WashingtonExaminer.com. He “made himself a partisan figure” in the middle of a “blatantly partisan conflict.” For that reason, he had informed his superiors that he planned to step down from the NSC. Trump’s only mistake was firing Vindman before he could leave and turning him into “a Democratic martyr.”
If you don’t find Trump’s vindictive “victory lap” disturbing, said Molly Jong-Fast in TheBulwark.com, you’re in denial. Contrast his vengeful behavior with Bill Clinton’s humble Rose Garden speech after his 1998 impeachment trial ended in acquittal. “I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events,” a chastened Clinton said. Trump, on the other hand, is still insisting that he did nothing wrong whatsoever in extorting Ukraine. It was therefore comical to hear Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) justify her acquittal vote by saying Trump had learned a “big lesson” from impeachment. Days later, she had to concede, “I may not be correct on that. It’s more aspirational on my part.”
Trump isn’t the only one out for blood, said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) have requested Hunter Biden’s travel records from the Secret Service for the period when his father, Joe, was vice president. The Treasury Department—which has gone to court to defy a congressional request for Trump’s tax returns—has already given Republican senators secret bank reports about Hunter Biden’s financial transactions. And Attorney General Bill Barr is scrutinizing information about the Bidens that Trump’s unhinged personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been digging up on his Ukrainian fishing expedition. This really is like “the chilling final payback scenes of The Godfather,” said Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. Unlike Michael Corleone, however, Trump doesn’t pretend that retribution is “strictly business.” For Trump, “it’s strictly personal.” ■