Having failed in his effort to thwart the voters' will and hold on to power, President Donald Trump will leave the White House under the cloud of a second impeachment and facing the humiliation of a trial in the Senate for inciting an insurrection. But the Trump administration didn't just end badly; it was a disaster from the start.
The question of whether Trump has been the worst president in American history can be debated, but he clearly was one of the worst. He deserves that infamous description not primarily because of poor policy decisions — though there were plenty of those — but because of his defects of character and temperament.
Yes, there have been presidents with personal failings who nevertheless exercised strong leadership and respected democratic institutions. But from the time Trump took office he displayed a constellation of flaws — narcissism, mendacity, an exaggerated view of his own ability and a chilling lack of empathy — that infected his presidency and divided the nation.
Trump began his administration with a lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, and the fabrications kept coming. His presidency ends with Trump clinging to the fiction that the election that ousted him was "rigged" — the same fantasy that impelled his crazed followers to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a siege that led to five deaths.
In 2017 this newspaper published a series of editorials under the title "Our Dishonest President," in which we drew a connection between Trump's contempt for the truth and other alarming features of his presidency, including his attacks on the news media ("fake news") and his undermining of vital institutions, such as the federal judiciary and the electoral process. In the last editorial in that series, we said that Trump was "reckless and unmanageable, a danger to the Constitution, a threat to our democratic institutions." That was an accurate indictment of Trump in 2017, and it sadly proved prophetic about the way he has behaved since.
The most damaging outcome of Trump's narcissism was his sabotaging of efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump can legitimately take credit for his administration's commitment to developing vaccines at "warp speed." But he undermined the larger effort to contain the virus by minimizing its dangers, questioning the value of testing, promoting questionable treatments and mocking mask-wearing.
Long before he exhorted his followers to "fight like hell" at the U.S. Capitol, he urged opponents of COVID-19 safety measures to "liberate" their states and, in a foreshadowing of his friendly comments about the mob at the U.S. Capitol, expressed sympathy for armed demonstrators who occupied the Michigan Statehouse.
Even those who believe that Trump promised a positive new direction for the Republican Party — opposition to "endless wars" and free trade and support for government investment at home, budget deficits be damned — must recognize that he undermined his own agenda with his erratic behavior, inattention to detail and ego-driven insistence on settling personal scores.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES