WASHINGTON — Presidents Day. No need to be glum if you stick with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the first and 16th presidents. They won real wars. Lincoln had a way with words that revolutionized American English.
But today, the presidency has not made Donald Trump better. Rather, he has made the presidency worse.
Now in our endless winter, President Trump, in a strange singsong voice, declared a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border. When states sue, he taunted, he will win in the Supreme Court.
The national emergency truly seems to be here in the nation's capital, not there on the border. The president is a walking, talking, tweeting emergency.
In fact, his early actions so alarmed the sober, straight-arrow Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, that he reviewed the 25th Amendment to see how the Cabinet can depose a president. It's reassuring, in a bleak way, to know that one inmate in the asylum was looking for a legal end to the crisis.
That was back in 2017, when Trump's assault on public institutions, like the free press and the intelligence community, was already under way. Trump's ties to Russia were already under close scrutiny. His breach with our nearest allies and dearest treaties was already on the cusp. Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement his first June in office was a prologue to going rogue on the world stage.
A top FBI official who was fired by Trump, Andrew G. McCabe, gave the above account regarding Rosenstein in a "60 Minutes" interview. His new book is "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., denounced declaring a state of emergency as fake and "lawless," an end run around Congress's power to approve building the wall he talks about all the time. It's an apt symbol of his war against immigrants, and broadly, the wider world.
After a grueling 35-day government shutdown — a showdown to which Trump surrendered — Congress studied funding the wall again and said no. Trump said, "So?"
Experts on Trump say this is a lifelong pattern, perfectly in character. Having grown up rich and conceited, Trump is the worst sport on God's green Earth. Never can he countenance a loss, let alone to a woman. (He dismissed losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton as election fraud.)
As author and journalist Timothy L. O'Brien wrote in Bloomberg Opinion, "Spinning victory yarns from incontrovertible losses was a hallmark of his troubled business career." He painted bankruptcy as a triumph.
Unlike those serving Washington and Lincoln, the president's men do not love his temperament as a leader. His small circle of male aides fears and cowers at his fits of rage. He watches cable television constantly, beyond the point that doctors recommend, and shuns presidential papers.
Nor has he cracked books by former presidents. Teddy Roosevelt, the jovial 26th president, wrote 40.
In any workplace, a mercurial boss is the hardest to work for, because you never know what's next.
This trope is writ large in the presidency. The press corps is up at dawn for the first tweet, and the beat goes on. The day is often spent keeping track of the latest insults, indictments, perhaps an abrupt firing, all with little method to the madness.
With its one-way street of tweets, Twitter has allowed this demagogue to dominate public discourse and weaken democracy with no questions asked. He's just feeding the beast — or base.
Other presidents known to have such mean streaks were Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon. They failed miserably.
Johnson, the 17th president, was impeached in 1868 amid the hurly-burly of post-Civil War Washington, missing the murdered Lincoln. Nixon, behind the crimes of the Watergate break-in and cover-up, resigned in 1974 to dodge being removed from office.
But Johnson and Nixon saved most outbursts for private conversations, not public consumption. We only discovered Nixon's true invective in the White House tapes. He was the 37th president.
If America were an extended family, Trump would play the abusive father. If this were England, we'd be whispering about the king's madness — madness in more ways than one.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website, creators.com.