As of this week, the Trump presidency* seems never to end. The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the apparent mishandling of classified information that led to it, and the political fallout are close to the paradigmatic Donald Trump scandal.
The scandal, which consists of a search of a former president’s home, is unprecedented—Trump claims it was unjust, and his critics highlight his misdeeds. Still, it shares three important characteristics with previous Trump scandals. First, it reveals Trump’s ignorance and contempt for the rule of law. Second, it highlights Trump’s willingness to use his office for personal gain. Third, it demonstrates Trump’s utter lack of concern for the welfare of the American people.
The first characteristic is evident in Trump’s reaction to the news of the FBI search. He tweeted it was “Very Sad!” and said he had been “targeted” by the Obama administration. This is typical Trumpian behaviour: when confronted with evidence of his wrongdoing, he attacked the messenger and claimed victimhood.
In sum, the Trump presidency* is defined by scandal. Trump’s opponents have long argued that he is unfit for office, and this latest scandal only underscores their point. It is time for Trump to be held accountable for his actions.
The story is at once totally new and unexpected, yet entirely of a piece with everything we know and have seen from Trump. Trump and his most bitter opponents have noted that searching a former president’s home is unprecedented—Trump claims it was unjust, and his critics highlight his misdeeds. Still, it shares three important characteristics with previous Trump scandals.
First, it has been heavily politicised like so many other things in American life. After being requested by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, a judge approved the FBI search. Still, it’s impossible to understand the decision without referencing Trump’s impeachment and current political standing.
Second, it has been accompanied by a near-total collapse of Trump’s fragile relationship with reality. His insistence that the search was part of a “witch hunt” and his unsubstantiated claim that he is the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy is evidence of this.
And third, it has led to an outpouring of lies from Trump and his allies. In addition to Trump’s false claims, we have seen a parade of lies from his lawyers, spokespeople, and even his family members.
All of this is par for the course in the Trump era. But the Mar-a-Lago search also has one important difference from previous Trump scandals: it is a reminder that, even though he is no longer president, Trump remains a clear and present danger to American democracy.
The search of Mar-a-Lago signifies that the rule of law still applies to Donald Trump. But it’s also a sign that we have not seen the last of Trump’s scandals. There will be more to come.
* This sentence has been corrected to remove a reference to Trump’s presidency as “over.” Trump is no longer president, but the Mar-a-Lago search reminds him that he remains a clear and present danger to American democracy.
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