Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s. View more opinion articles on CNN. This article has been updated to reflect the latest news.
Dear Trump loyalists,
Whether you are a voter, a member of Congress, a propagandist, or a member of his family, there’s something you need to accept: Donald Trump cannot be trusted.
Recent days have seen so many of the President’s ardent backers react with shock to his betrayals that their complaints tug at an empathetic person’s heart.
The latest development in the saga is the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is stepping down at the end of February due to policy differences with the President. The announcement of Mattis’ departure, tweeted by Trump on Thursday, was met with what seemed like an “I told you so” from Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who tweeted “That’s what happens when you ignore sound military advice.”
Just one day prior, incendiary pundit Ann Coulter considered Trump’s decision to abandon his demand for border wall funding in the federal budget, and declared him a “joke” who will “have no legacy whatsoever.” Rep. Mark Meadows of the hard-right Freedom Caucus called the choice “a fumble” and took to social media to say, “The time to fight is now. Zero excuse.” (That kind of criticism is likely why Trump is now saying he won’t sign legislation keeping the government open unless he gets more money for border security.)
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, where the President tunes in to get regular doses of adoration, Lindsey Graham and others were getting airtime to blast Trump’s sudden decision to announce a “rapid” withdrawal of the US military fighting the ISIS terrorist force in Syria.
“To me, it’s an ill-conceived idea,” said Graham, who has been a loyal Trump-backer in the Senate. “The downside is really great, and the upside is pretty small.” The troops, made more vulnerable because enemies understand they are packing to leave, surely agree.
The defeat of ISIS was one of Trump’s major presidential campaign themes, and nothing was more important to his base than his promise to build a huge Mexico-funded wall across the Southern border of the United States in order to keep out illegal immigrants. So far, he’s sticking by the Syria decision, although the real mission there has not been accomplished. And when it comes to the wall, he even tried to get everyone to look the other way, tweeting Thursday, “With so much talk about the Wall, people are losing sight of the great job being done on our Southern Border by Border Patrol, ICE and our great Military.”
Coulter, Meadows, Graham and all those in the Trump camp who now express shock and outrage obviously haven’t been paying attention. Trump burned his first big political supporter, Jeff Sessions, by luring him out of the Senate to become attorney general and then badgering him into retirement. Two Trump chiefs of staff – Reince Priebus and John Kelly – have been used and abused by this President, and the number of lower-level appointees who have been spun through the revolving door is almost too great to track.
Washington should have noticed that Donald Trump has been disappointing people who placed their trust in him for 40 years.
In business he was so unreliable that his companies went bankrupt four times, leaving lenders, workers, investors and contractors in the lurch. You could fill an army with the airline workers, casino employees, Trump University students and others who believed in him and lost. In showbiz, Trump was the star who, according to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” tape fame, consistently tried to deceive reporters with false claims about his TV ratings. And in his personal life, he has repeatedly mistreated the women he promised to love.
Trump’s presidency is a reflection of the man he has always been.
Divorce is not a crime and cannot be considered evidence of a character flaw, but when a man treats three wives in cruel and despicable ways, it does say something about his character. Ivana Trump, the President’s first wife, was famously put through the tabloid wringer in a sex scandal that found her, the man she called The Donald, and a swimsuit model named Marla Maples featured on the front pages of the New York Post and the Daily News. Maples would soon get the tabloid treatment, too, and her marriage to Trump would be over in four short years. The current Mrs. Trump, first lady Melania, has arguably suffered the most of his wives, enduring scandals involving a porn star, a Playboy model, and a cascade of evidence – including an infamous recording – of her husband’s awful behavior. Though Trump has dismissed his abhorrent vulgarity as locker room talk, he has denied the affair allegations.
That anyone would trust Donald Trump at all is testimony to his formidable skills as a salesman, and the all-too-human weaknesses that lead people to make deals they should never make. General Michael Flynn was already showing signs of crumbling integrity when he joined the Trump campaign and began shouting, “Lock her up!” to Trump supporters who hated Hillary Clinton.
His corruption was completed during his work for Trump, and he now awaits sentencing by a federal judge. Trump’s longtime consigliere Michael Cohen’s hunger for the rewards Trump dangled led him to a similar fate, consulting the pages of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” in hopes of understanding how he could have fallen so far.
In fact, dear Trump loyalists, the tales of Cohen, Flynn, Melania, Marla, Ivana and all the others Trump has betrayed show that it almost always takes two to create a fiasco (Mattis is the exception). Yes, Donald Trump is a weak and insecure man with no core values to prevent him from acting on a self-interested whim. These qualities make him dangerous.
However, every person who finds himself, or herself, regretting an alliance with Trump must consider how they allowed themselves to join him in the first place. A con man can only succeed when the mark is blinded by his or her own ego, greed, insecurity, or prejudice. Republicans who howled about Bill Clinton’s character flaws when he had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, yet now loyally support Trump, obviously suspended their moral code in order to back their party’s man.
Men like Trump depend on the vast opportunities present in this big wide world to keep playing their games as long as possible. As predators, they don’t have to change as long as new targets can be found. Victims can recover, but only if they muster the courage to recognize that they may have played a role in their own suffering.
I would suggest, in this season of goodwill, that everyone who harbors regrets about Trump practice a bit of self-compassion. Forgive yourself. You were conned by one of the greatest who ever played the game. And make your New Year’s resolution a promise to yourself: I won’t be fooled again.