Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion on CNN.
Biographers tell us that, early on, a cutthroat New York real estate developer imparted a dark lesson to the son who would become president of the United States.
There are two kinds of people in the world, Fred Trump explained to his apprentice child. There are killers, and there are losers.
The message was clear: You play to win, whatever it takes. Rules? Norms? Those are for losers. And Fred Trump had no time for losers.
It’s a lesson Donald Trump learned all too well.
Throughout his life, the President has seemingly operated with that conviction – that the world is a jungle, where you kill or be killed. The strong – the winners – get what they want, however they need to take it. Only the weak – the losers – play by the rules.
In Trump’s world, there seems to be little wrong with lying to get the advantage. In fact, it’s almost wrong not to, because if you don’t screw the other guys, they sure as hell are going to screw you.
That’s how Trump appears to have run his businesses – burning bridges almost everywhere he’s gone; leaving an endless trail of lawsuits from embittered partners; allegedly dodging creditors, regulators and taxes; facing accusations of short-changing contractors and swindling customers. (Trump has denied any wrongdoing in his businesses dealings or tax filings.)
And that’s the philosophy he’s brought to the presidency, flagrantly defying rules and norms and undermining institutions that are the bulwark of a functioning democracy.
From the moment he descended the Trump Tower escalator in June 2015 and entered national politics with a barrage of incendiary, racist tripe, Trump has routinely and scurrilously lied and sold his self-serving version of events and conspiracy theories. He has willfully and cynically divided and inflamed the country he was elected to lead to suit his own ends.
Trump – whose rise to power was built on an inflated, reality-show depiction of himself as a business titan – has made a practice of exaggerating his own feats. The biggest! The best! No one’s ever seen anything like this before!, he promised us.
Well, this time, Trump’s finally right.
No president, in the long history of our republic, has ever been impeached twice. It is a record for ignominy that we can only hope will never be eclipsed, and the emblem of this most corrupt, chaotic and destructive of presidencies.
Likely driven by his desperate need to fulfill his father’s mandate, Fred Trump’s son committed egregious sins against our democracy as he attempted to retain power.
Twice he was cited for trying to interfere in the 2020 election. Last year, it was for the unthinkable act of pressuring a foreign leader – the Ukrainian president – to falsely open and announce a corruption investigation into the potential opponent Trump feared the most, Joe Biden, in 2019.
Trump cynically and effectively depicted that earlier impeachment as partisan and remained in office, as only one Republican US senator, Mitt Romney, dared to defy the vengeful president.
Far from chastened, the President was emboldened to believe that he could by legislative or judicial fiat overturn the results of the 2020 election – a free and fair vote in which he was soundly defeated.
Now five people are dead and our democracy wounded by the coup attempt the President of the United States incited in a last, desperate bid to stop the Congress from doing its constitutional duty and affirming Biden’s electoral college victory.
Even some members of Trump’s tribe, who witnessed the siege, had seen enough. Ten joined in the vote to impeach him and moved one step closer to banning him from holding federal office again.
There should have been more Republicans who crossed party lines, but Trump retains the loyalty of an implacable corps of believers among his base, and too many Republicans succumbed to fears of Trump and his devout followers in future primary elections. Kudos to those who did not.
There is a lot more to learn about how we got to the point of this attempted coup and why so many Americans have bought Trump’s fraudulent narrative about an election he plainly lost.
But however and whenever the US Senate acts on Trump’s historic second impeachment, this much we know: He will leave office within a week, not as an honored former president but as the disgraced and selfish provocateur of a seditious uprising. The violent insurrection against the US Capitol and our democracy will be his epitaph.
The threat of legal action and disbarment from public office in the future still looms. But the President already has suffered the most painful penalty of all: Fred Trump’s boy will go home a loser.