Trump Conduct Vandalizes Presidency
WASHINGTON — Among the more revealing moments in the ongoing White House nervous breakdown came in chief of staff John Kelly’s initial defense of staff secretary Rob Porter. As accusations of domestic abuse against Porter became public, Kelly pronounced him a man of “true integrity and honor.” I have never been in the military. But I suspect that, for most people in uniform, this is not what they mean by “honor.” I did, like the rest of the incoming White House senior staff in 2001, take the oath of office in the East Room of the Executive Mansion. The moment was less joyful than sobering. History hangs heavy in that place, where Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy had lain in repose and Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral service was held. Where Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The setting, the moment and the words — “I do solemnly swear ...” — evoked a mix of awe, pride and fear of being unequal to the honor. This experience as a staffer, I suspect, helps explain the intensity of my reaction to Donald Trump. By even the most generous standards, Trump is a figure of monumental smallness. He conducts himself with the decorum of a spoiled child — lashing out at enemies, treating professionals at the FBI or CIA like minions, blurting out conspiracy theories and obvious lies. He regularly brings the presidency and the country into disrepute. And the White House staff has followed his example. Most Americans probably don’t share this sense that Trump is defiling something noble. For many Trump supporters, the whole idea of nobility in politics is a sham. They can point to Richard Nixon oozing anti-Semitism, or Bill Clinton having a dalliance near the Oval Office. In this view. Trump, in refreshing contrast, acts and talks like someone from the real world. American presidents often have risen to extraordinary moral leadership. Consider Franklin Roosevelt pushing a reluctant country toward support for Great Britain, with the future of liberty in the balance. Or Dwight Eisenhower sending in the 101st Airborne to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. Or Ronald Reagan insisting that the Cold War could be won, because the yoke of oppression does not fit human shoulders. These leaders believed that America has some special destiny. And they conducted themselves in a manner consistent with that calling. Presidents are not judged primarily by the tax cuts they pass. They are measured by the standards JFK set out in his farewell to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1961: “Were we truly men of courage ... were we truly men of judgment ... were we truly men of integrity ... were we truly men of dedication?” For some presidents, these virtues were a guiding passion; for others a facade. This president has abandoned even lip service to these ideals, conducting himself like the CEO of a shady casino company. Which is exactly what Trump has always been. By his conduct, the president is vandalizing the one house he cannot buy or own. This is not mere mysticism. Most important institutions are protected and empowered by esteem. To the cynic, a judge is an average woman in a robe; a general is a poser in a costume; a priest is a balding man with sweat staining his armpits. But however accurate these depictions, they are not true. Because of the institutions they serve, these people represent the rule of law, the triumph of duty, the presence of God. The institution of the presidency will survive Trump. But the office deserves an occupant of true integrity and honor. MICHAEL GERSON, a senior policy staffer during the George W. Bush administration, writes for The Washington Post.