Dana Milbank: It was never about 'America First.' It's always been Trump first
At the core of the impeachment inquiry — indeed, at the core of almost every complaint about this president — is one simple truth: Donald Trump is not a patriot.
I don’t question that on some level he loves his country. I just know that he loves himself more. Again and again, he has harmed the nation’s interests to further his own.
Geopolitical archrival China, fighting us in a trade war, now knows that to secure good relations with the U.S. administration, it should produce dirt on Trump’s prospective Democratic opponent. That’s not in the national interest (it’s flatly against the law). It’s in Trump’s personal interest.
Likewise, Trump temporarily left Ukraine without U.S. military assistance against Russian aggression while requesting a “favor” — furnish dirt on that same political opponent, Joe Biden. That compromised national security for Trump’s electoral purposes.
Trump and his underlings also sought help from allies Britain, Italy and Australia in debunking former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on Russian election interference.
The use of government powers for Trump’s interests happens everywhere. Attorney General William Barr, after misleading the public about the Mueller report’s conclusions on Trump’s culpability, launched, at Trump’s request, a major effort to discredit officials who investigated 2016 election interference.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at Trump’s behest, revived an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s long-ago emails.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spearheaded the effort to solicit political dirt from Ukraine.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ignored the law in refusing access to Trump’s tax returns — blocking Congress from knowing about Trump’s foreign entanglements.
Trump has encouraged everybody from Vice President Pence on down to patronize his resorts and is now seeking to host the Group of Seven at his Florida golf resort. The General Services Administration ignored constitutional concerns to allow Trump to benefit personally from a government lease.
Trump even pressured federal meteorological officials to rescind weather advice that contradicted his — much as he pressured the National Park Service to falsify inauguration attendance.
Trump has many undesirable attributes: He lies, he chases conspiracy theories, he’s racist, he abuses power, he’s cruel. The common thread — a unified theory of Trump, if you will — is that the man who promised an “America First” agenda is instead pursuing a “Trump First” agenda. This is the Me Presidency.
Why pursue a debunked conspiracy theory absolving Russia of helping him in the 2016 election? Same reason he formed a commission to find popular-vote fraud: He wants to erase the perception that his presidency is illegitimate.
Why does he give succor to white nationalists? Same reason he befriends strongmen: These people love him, so they must be “very fine people,” as Trump said after Charlottesville.
Why does he constantly lie to boost himself and use his public office to boost his private fortune? As was once said of General Motors: What’s good for Trump is good for the country.
He softened on North Korea after its dictator flattered him in “love letters.” He let nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu have free rein in exchange for such things as naming a fictitious Israeli village after Trump. He blew up an international communique and canceled a trip to Denmark because of perceived personal slights. He shoved a prime minister blocking him from the front row of a photo.
Questioning another American’s patriotism (Trump routinely accuses critics of “treason”) can be an ugly business. I’ve reserved this for two: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., (who happily has since retreated from his refusal to protect U.S. elections from foreign tampering) and Trump.
Calling a genuine war hero, John McCain, a “loser,” resisting honors for him at death and continuing to attack him posthumously is not patriotic.
Using the gravestones of fallen U.S. troops as a backdrop when you attack your political opponents on foreign soil is not patriotic.
Attacking Gold Star parents is not patriotic.
Avoiding the wartime draft by claiming bone spurs and then boasting that eluding STDs was your “personal Vietnam” is not patriotic.
Taking over the nation’s Independence Day celebration (after a similar attempt at Veterans Day) to honor yourself is not patriotic.
Telling the Russian government you don’t care that it interfered in U.S. elections, and siding with Russia’s denials over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence is not patriotic.
Sharing intelligence secrets with a foe and inviting election help from foreign governments is not patriotic.
McCain, a great patriot, spoke often of serving a cause greater than self. Trump has no such cause.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.