Interviewed on TV the other day, Democratic Congressman (and presidential candidate) Eric Swalwell was asked to name some positive characteristic of Donald Trump. Swalwell didn’t hesitate: “He’s not a quitter.”
The congressman was certainly right about that. Trump’s determination to prevail seems unquenchable. Truly, a remarkable phenomenon.
The Mueller report documents in great detail President Trump’s repeated efforts to derail, divert, and/or defeat the investigation being conducted into his campaign’s relationship with a hostile power that worked to help him win the presidency. Repeatedly, Trump tried to get his White House counsel to fire the head of the investigation. Repeatedly, Trump leaned on his attorney general (Jeff Sessions) to unrecuse himself so that Sessions could protect Trump.
(And his persistence eventually got Trump the kind of attorney general he wanted – one who would serve the president at every turn, regardless of law and propriety. (One who’d even act “in contempt of Congress” for refusing to provide – to the only people with the legal power to hold a president accountable for crimes committed – all the work that the Mueller team had tried to send them.)
And now, as the forces that would hold the president accountable have gathered in strength and intensity, Trump is doubling down on his determination to prevail over the rule of law. Trump has issued unprecedented orders to defy every lawful demand from Congress, and he’s renewed his counter-attacks on law enforcement officials who dared examine his conduct.
There’s a famous Trump quote he says describes his “way of life”: “When someone attacks me, I always attack back...except 100x more.”
(Although every president receives continuous criticism, never before have we had a president who strikes back regularly at his critics.)
Doubtless every American ear hears the word “quitter” as a derogatory term. But no quality is a virtue in every circumstance. Sometimes virtue dictates acceptance of an unwanted outcome.
Back in 2000, after the Supreme Court (in Bush v. Gore) handed the election to George W. Bush (in a decision that even the 5-4 Republican majority on the court recognized as so flawed they declared it ought not ever be used as a precedent), the nation was at a juncture of dangerous division. Vice President Gore – the candidate on the losing end of that decision – spoke to the nation saying that while he disagreed with the decision, in our system of government the process had reached a conclusion (since the court gets the last word) and he would contest the outcome no more.
Respecting our constitutional order, for Gore, outweighed not only his personal interest but even his sense of what rightfully should have happened. Would it have been a virtue for him to have pursued the conflict even when the lawful means of so doing had been exhausted? I don’t think so. In that instance, Gore’s refusing to “quit” would have damaged the nation.
When Trump now refuses to let the legal process play out – when he defies the constitutional authority of a co-equal branch of government – he shows he’s no “quitter.” And he also threatens the foundations of our system of government he took an oath to defend.
In 1974, when Richard Nixon saw that Congress was going to impeach him and remove him from office, he resigned. He had at least that much respect for our constitutional order.
Can anyone imagine that if Congress were to vote to convict Trump, Trump would show respect for the lawful, constitutional process that Nixon deferred to? Can you imagine him accepting defeat as Nixon did as he climbed aboard that helicopter on the White House lawn?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently expressed concern that Trump might refuse to accept the results of the 2020 elections if they go against him. That concern echoes what Trump’s own long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, said at the end of his congressional testimony in February: “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
(It is such peaceful transitions, of course, that have been the hallmark of those systems of government that avoid the nightmarish scenarios of wars and revolutions endured by many other societies throughout history.)
Those concerns seem all too realistic in view of what we saw from Trump during the 2016 campaign. When he expected to lose, he began telling his supporters that the election was being “rigged” against him – an accusation for which he had absolutely no evidence, and one which laid the foundation for potential insurrectionary violence from followers who’d have believed their leader that they’d been robbed.
Trump’s not being a “quitter” is indeed a testament to his great strength of will. But it also seems an indicator that there is nothing – not the Constitution, not the law, not the well-being of the nation – that he holds higher than his own overriding need to be the “winner,” the guy on top.
Andy Schmookler is a prize-winning author many of whose works can be found at www.ABetterHumanStory.org.