Donald Trump just had his Trumpiest week yet. Picture: AFP/Saul Loeb
Donald Trump just had his Trumpiest week yet. Picture: AFP/Saul Loeb

One word exposes Trump’s fatal flaw

COMMENT

There is a fatal flaw at the heart of Donald Trump's presidency. It has been there the whole time, but only now is it truly threatening to take him down.

If you want to know what it is, look at his use of the word "treason".

You will find no shortage of examples, because Mr Trump really, really likes to accuse people of treason.

When the media publishes something critical of him, it's treason.

The investigation into Russian election interference, which examined whether Mr Trump's campaign had colluded with Russia, was a "treasonous hoax".

Opposition to his border wall with Mexico is treason.

Democrats were "treasonous" for failing to applaud enough during his State of the Union speech.

Heck, sometimes he just tweets it out with no context whatsoever.

This week, Mr Trump used it to describe the officials within his government who had spoken to a whistleblower about his call with the President of Ukraine.

"I want to know who's the person, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now," Mr Trump said.

I should point out that treason is a real crime, which is explicitly defined in the United States Constitution.

"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort," it says.

More colloquially, it is understood to mean the betrayal of one's country.

Which brings me, at last, to the point.

Donald Trump simply does not understand the distinction between America's national interest and his own personal interest.

That is why he accuses people of treason for being disloyal to him, personally. He believes loyalty to the country means loyalty to him.

And it is why he thinks he did nothing wrong in that phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The transcript of the call, released this week, showed Mr Trump asking Mr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, who is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and the man most likely to take on Mr Trump in next year's election.

"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son. That Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney-General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it … it sounds horrible to me," Mr Trump said.

This was Mr Trump, acting in his official capacity as President, pursuing his own personal interest at the expense of America's national interest. He was trying to pressure a foreign country into digging up dirt on an American citizen, purely because that citizen happened to be his biggest political rival.

He urged the Ukrainian President to speak to his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the head of the US Justice Department, William Barr - one a personal employee, the other a senior government official - again blurring the line between personal and public.

Mr Trump's defenders claim he is just passionate about fighting corruption, and that's why he was pressuring Mr Zelensky.

I suppose it's merely a coincidence, then, that his lone corruption-busting initiative involved taking down the guy most likely to beat him next year.

The most baffling part of all this is that Mr Trump clearly thought releasing the transcript would absolve him of wrongdoing, and seemed genuinely surprised when it did the exact opposite.

"Will the Democrats apologise after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should. A perfect call - got them by surprise," he tweeted.

Say I was accused of stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. There was footage of me doing it. I released that footage. And then I demanded an apology from the people who had accused me of stealing the cookie.

That is what Mr Trump did this week.

He was accused of pressuring a foreign country to investigate his political opponent. There was a transcript of the conversation, showing he did exactly that. He released the transcript. Then he demanded an apology.

We live in incredibly stupid times.

Picture: Martinez Monsivias/AP/Pablo
Picture: Martinez Monsivias/AP/Pablo

The call with Mr Zelensky is not an isolated incident. Mr Trump has repeatedly failed to make the distinction between what is best for him and what is best for the United States, instead treating them as one and the same.

To this day, he is reluctant to acknowledge Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. He continues to cast doubt on the unanimous assessment of America's intelligence agencies that Russia hacked his political opponents, even as security experts warn it could happen again. During the call with Mr Zelensky, he pushed a bizarre conspiracy theory that claims Russia was framed.

Why? Because he fears that pointing out and condemning Russia's actions would delegitimise his victory over Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump fired FBI director James Comey after concluding he was insufficiently loyal - not to the United States, but to him.

He tried to stymie and discredit the Mueller investigation, labelling it a "partisan witch hunt", even as it put criminals behind bars.

And he raged at Mr Barr's predecessor as attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, for quite rightly recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Mr Trump saw that as a personal betrayal. He thought Mr Sessions had failed to protect him, as though the United States' top law enforcement official was supposed to act as his personal lawyer.

After two-and-a-half years in the job, he still doesn't get that in a democracy, government officials' first loyalty is to the country, not the President.

This is all particularly galling because Mr Trump portrays himself as a nationalist.

"From this moment on, it's going to be America first. America first," he promised in his historic inauguration speech.

In truth, he only believes in putting America first when that doesn't conflict with his own self-interest.

Mr Trump delivered another big speech this week, at the United Nations. You probably didn't notice, because literally no one noticed - we were all a little preoccupied with the meltdown in Washington.

Once I finally got around to reading the thing, one line jumped out at me.

"Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first," Mr Trump said.

You know who did put the good of their country first? The whistleblower who complained about Mr Trump's phone call, and the officials who told them about it. The people Mr Trump has accused of treason, without a hint of irony.

These people were so concerned about America's national interest - specifically, the integrity of the presidency - that at least one of them set aside their own personal interest, and put their career on the line, to protect it.

That is the exact opposite of treason.