When controversy arose in 2016 over Trump University, the defunct operation in which Donald Trump conned gullible and desperate customers out of thousands of dollars and in some cases their life savings, the Republican presidential nominee insisted that in fact the attendees at the real estate seminars couldn't have been happier with the wealth-creating secrets they had learned. In fact, he said, the program received "98 percent approval rating by the students that took the course—98 percent," a series of "beautiful statements" attesting to their satisfaction. "That's why I won't settle the case."
In the end, Trump did settle the case, paying his victims $25 million. But I bring this up because what he's saying now about the government shutdown has such a familiar ring to it. The people Trump is victimizing are, in his telling, enthusiastic about not being able to pay their bills. "Many of those workers have said to me, communicated—stay out until you get the funding for the wall," he said on Christmas. This wave of government employees calling up the White House switchboard and getting patched through to the Oval Office so they can express their support has apparently not abated; on Friday, Trump said, "Many of those people, maybe most of those people, that really have not been―and will not be getting their money in at this moment―those people, in many cases, are the biggest fan of what we're doing."
This is just one small way in which the pre-presidential Trump provided a perfect guide to what Trump would be like as president.
As abysmal as the 2016 campaign was, you can't say that it didn't show us—at least those of us who were paying sufficient attention—what this presidency would be like. And the shutdown crisis is yet another reminder that the Trump we saw then is precisely the Trump we've gotten every day since.
We saw then that Trump is spectacularly dishonest and corrupt, even if we didn't yet understand the full extent of that corruption; for instance, it was only this past October that we learned that Trump and his family engaged in a massive tax fraud scheme that bilked the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars. We also saw that he is both genuinely racist and happy to cynically encourage racism in others to achieve his own ends. And we saw how he thrives on crisis, finding opportunity for personal advantage at moments when others are trying to restore order and limit the damage he has caused. As Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted, "over the years he has learned that he has a much higher tolerance for chaos and disruption than other people. He has also learned to weaponize that trait by creating so much chaos and pain that others will surrender and give him what he wants."
Which is precisely what Trump is trying to do now. His lack of concern for the welfare of the 800,000 or so federal workers affected by the shutdown may be his greatest advantage, since Democrats actually care what happens to those workers and want the government to provide services to the public. Since Trump doesn't, he probably thinks he can outlast them.
And he may be right; this is already the third-longest shutdown in history, and by next weekend it will be the longest. Trump has said that if he doesn't get his border wall, it could last months or even years.
The shutdown is just one of the predictable crises Trump and his government face. His campaign, his transition, his administration, his business, and his foundation are all under investigation. At the moment Trump has an acting secretary of defense, an acting attorney general, an acting chief of staff, no secretary of the interior, and no ambassador to the United Nations; to one degree or another, the people who held those positions all left in either disgrace or disgust.
That too was predictable from the Trump we saw in 2016. Whether in his business or his campaign, he attracted those with the least integrity, which is why his former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser, and personal lawyer have all pled guilty to crimes. The law-abiding who went to work for him eventually found their reputations corroded beyond repair.
And a president who spent a lifetime believing rules and laws were for the little people has shown himself to feel the same way as president, threatening to use the government to go after his political opponents, almost certainly obstructing justice, monetizing the presidency for his family's benefit, and generally acting as though the entire structure of Constitution and law is for suckers. His latest threat is to declare a "national emergency" so he can divert funds from the Department of Defense to start building more walls along the border, which every sane expert has greeted with the same incredulity that so many of his other ideas have been met with.
As awful as it all is, none of it has surprised anyone. Had I told you in 2016 that Trump would lie and bumble his way through his first two years in office, display his ignorance and impulsiveness every day, cause a monumental political backlash against his appalling rule that swept Democrats back into power, then force a government shutdown to get his idiotic wall, all the while blaming his own mistakes on the opposition and claiming absurdly that most Americans approved of everything he was doing, you would have said, "That sounds about right." Had I told you of a new dawn of government corruption, of America's degraded image in the world, of strained alliances, and of a government staffed by incompetents, crooks, and fools, you would have said, "Of course that's what will happen."
So Trump will continue to horrify and appall us, causing damage that we can only begin to measure. What else did you expect?