Trump’s bad character drags down a nation

“Character is destiny,” the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, famously said.

Two and a half millennia after Heraclitus lived, Donald Trump and his administration are proving the point.

Without undertaking a psychological inquiry into his emotional well-being, we know much about President Trump’s character, based on what he says and writes about himself, not to mention what we’ve seen from him over four decades as a public figure. He is boastful). He’s transactional. He’s hyper-materialistic, and he cares a great deal about appearance.

Trump’s relationship to the truth is, at best, shaky. He likes conflict and unpredictability. He believes that admitting error is a sign of weakness and that he should hit back 10 times as hard at his critics. He doesn’t like to read, doesn’t care much about policy details, and makes decisions from the gut.

These are not the kind of values and attributes I’d like to pass on to my children — but there’s no question that they have brought Trump great success, including propelling him to unlikely victory in a presidential campaign.

But these character traits are ill serving Trump as president, and indeed threatening the country.. Consider:

  • As the original sin of his administration, Trump refused to divest his expansive business holdings. There is no such precedent for a president maintaining such all-encompassing conflicts of interest, which violate the spirit and arguably the letter of the U.S. Constitution’s anti-bribery (“emoluments”) clause. The direct result has been a profound corruption of government policymaking — on everything from taxes to clean water policy — as the administration makes decisions that directly affect Trump’s business empire.
  • Trump continues to repeat the lie that voter fraud is a significant problem and explains why he lost the popular vote. His grandiosity does not enable him to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton received more votes. As a result, he looks silly for embracing transparently untrue claims; and, more seriously, he perpetuates a myth designed to suppress the vote of minority voters.
  • Trump cannot stomach the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating his campaign for possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. Trump believes himself above the law and disdains the constitutional checks and balances that are the bedrock of our working democracy.

The president cannot be permitted to fire an independent investigator simply because the investigator is looking into allegations of misconduct by the president, or those close to him. That’s the pathway to authoritarian rule.

All of these are problems — and many others — are of Trump’s own making. Largely, they don’t reflect any particular ideology or program. Rather, they are a direct outgrowth of his personality and character.

Most elected officials run for office out of a sense of public service — but they also tend to have very healthy egos. That’s almost part of the job description. Still, as he himself says, President Trump is not like other politicians. He is a character unlike others, and his character is unlike others. As a result, we’re destined to lurch from crisis to crisis, peril to peril, as long as he is president.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen (, which has as its stated mission ensuring that all citizens are represented in the halls of power. He wrote this for



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