Andy Schmookler: When you’re a star, you can do anthing

Andy Schmookler

We should have known what we were getting when we heard Trump declare, on the Hollywood Access video: “When you’re a star, you can do anything.”

It is now clear that this captured more than just what he was boasting he could get away with doing to women. It’s his attitude across the board: Because he’s such a big shot, the usual rules don’t apply to him.

The rules tell a president: when going to your presidential briefings, don’t take someone in the pay of a foreign power, and certainly don’t make such a foreign agent your national security adviser. But that’s what Trump did with Michael Flynn, was who being paid to serve Turkish interests. Warned by the Department of Justice about Flynn’s troubling connections with the Turkish and Russian regimes, Trump did nothing – until some of these problems were publicly exposed.

The rules say that a president should arrange his finances so that, in his dealings with other nations, no personal interests of his could even potentially divert him from serving the interests of the American people. But Trump blithely refused to disclose or divest his worldwide financial interests, and no sooner was he elected than – in his dealings with Argentina, China, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and other nations – numerous instances of the appearance of corruption emerged.

When you’re as big a deal as Trump, he apparently thinks, you can do anything.

Although politicians often promise more than they can achieve, they try, as a rule, to provide a reasonable correlation between what they promise their supporters and what they attempt to deliver. Trump’s conduct on the health care issue represents a startling departure from that norm: after assuring his supporters everyone would have coverage that was better and cheaper than now, as president he gave his enthusiastic endorsement to legislation that would have stripped 24 million Americans of health care coverage altogether. The measure would have been injurious to many of the older, white, rural Americans who thought he’d be their champion.

The rule has been that a president-elect will not meddle in American foreign relations before he is inaugurated, but will respect the well-established norm that says, “We have one president at a time.” But Trump violated that custom, making himself a player in our foreign affairs in multiple ways when he was president elect–with his primary foreign policy adviser contacting the Russians to undercut the policy of sanctions against Putin’s regime being advanced by the man who was still president.

The rule has been that the president, or the president-elect, routinely draws upon the expertise of foreign policy professionals as he deals with the leaders of other nations. But Trump, who has boasted about his “great brain” and that he knows “more than the generals,” saw no need to be guided by experts. Ignoring that rule, Trump (apparently inadvertently) violated one of the foundational agreements of the U.S.-China relationship, eventually being compelled to undo a mistake he need never have made.

The rule has been that the president treats his credibility with the American people as an essential asset, knowing that any presidential lying will corrode the trust on which  leadership and the security of the nation so often depends. But Trump has propagated falsehoods at a prodigious rate – well over 100 false statements, by one count, just in his first month in office. Such has been his carelessness with the truth that, despite a president’s having better access to good information than anyone else on earth, Trump turned instead to the most unreliable sources and disturbed the peace of the nation by launching a baseless accusation against his predecessor. Trump seems indifferent to the fact that 60 percent of Americans regard him as dishonest – so long as his most fervent supporters continue to back him and show up for his rallies events to express their enthusiastic support.

Memorably, Trump himself sized up the mentality of his supporters, during the campaign, this way: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I would not lose any voters.”

The evidence suggests he was right. Even after all the mounting evidence of Trump’s having betrayed our country with the Russians, and even after what presidential historian Douglas Brinkley has called the “most failed” beginning of a presidency in American history, a mere 3 percent of those who voted for Trump regret it.

With them, it seems, he is such a star that he really can do anything.

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, and was the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012. His newly published book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – And How We Can Defeat It.”