Donald Trump’s presidency has only ever been about one thing – himself.
So the President’s decision to risk exposing his supporters to coronavirus – and anyone they might later meet – at an indoor rally on Saturday and extraordinary revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton might be shocking. But they merely add to a bulging file of evidence about Trump’s incessant preoccupation with his own interests and image.
The foreign policy hawk’s book accuses the President of pleading with China’s leader Xi Jinping to help him win reelection. This would be an abuse of his duty that would be on a par with his quid pro quo demand in a political shake-down of Ukraine that got him impeached – that Bolton confirms. Bolton also writes that Trump tries to ingratiate himself with dictators by offering to intervene in criminal investigations on their behalf and also claims that Trump is easily manipulated by smart global counterparts, especially Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump, Bolton told ABC, is not “fit for office.”
Bolton clearly has revenge in mind, and during a long Washington career has often plowed what his critics see as a selfish furrow on behalf of his pet issues. He is being accused by Democrats for keeping quiet about Trump’s abuses of power during impeachment in order to make a buck with his tell-all. And unlike still-serving diplomats and civil servants with much more to lose, he declined to testify in public hearings.
Yet he also spent months by Trump’s side in sensitive meetings and on calls with foreign leaders so he is offering an insider’s look. His claim that the President agreed with Xi on the need to build concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims is a stunning glimpse at how Trump ignores the principles that have underpinned American foreign policy.
Bolton claims the President sees no distinction between the national interest and his own.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job. There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection,” Bolton told ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz in an interview set to air Sunday.
“He was so focused on the reelection that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside,” he added.
This is evident in photo-op summits that produced no tangible result with tyrants such as Kim Jong Un. His foreign policy on issues from climate to Afghanistan and Iran to NATO often seems designed exclusively to honor promises made on the campaign trail with little examination of wider geostrategic considerations.
“Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and US national interests,” Bolton wrote.
“Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security,” Bolton wrote in the book, which will be officially published next week but was obtained by several media organizations, including CNN.
Bolton’s allegations sparked horror in Washington foreign policy circles and among political commentators. But paradoxically such outrage may only strengthen his bond with his most fervent supporters. One of his great political successes is that Trump has doggedly pursued his own interests while convincing millions of his supporters he is speaking for “Forgotten Americans.” He’s achieved this partly by attacking establishment figures that they despise, picking fights with nations he considers have ripped America off and behaving with the utter lack of decorum Bolton describes.
Trump misleads on rising coronavirus infections
It’s a measure of the tumult of the last three-and-a-half years that the book and Saturday’s rally are not even particularly shocking.
After all, Trump began his term by boasting at his inaugural crowd in front of the CIA’s wall of fallen heroes. He stood on stage next to Putin, a US adversary, and trashed US intelligence agencies because it suited him politically. And he was impeached for sacrificing US interests in Ukraine for his own personal electoral gain in a bid to hobble his rival in November, Joe Biden. More recently he’s rushed to open the economy that is crucial to his reelection hopes while ignoring states that are flouting his own government’s guidelines on when it’s safe to ease stay at home orders.
There is alarming new data showing coronavirus on the rise in many states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona which embraced his aggressive reopening demands. Instead of addressing the issue, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are accusing reporters of hyping a “second wave” of infections – as if the country is not still stuck battling the first wave.
In the meantime, in another example of prioritizing his own image over the health of others, Trump refuses to give the press the “satisfaction” of seeing him in a mask – even though health experts say such measures can save thousands of lives. On Tuesday, the President had a Rose Garden event about police reform after one of the most wrenching periods about race in recent US history, but it soon degenerated into boasts about his own performance in a mini-version of one of his campaign rallies.
Trump’s Saturday rally – one of the only mass participation indoor events in the world for months – marks his return to the campaign trail at a moment when he needs to get back out, given the grim state of his current opinion polls.
But Trump is clearly craving to be back center stage, basking in the adulation of a crowd at an event in which he is the undisputed star. After months when Americans have learned to stand apart, to avoid crowds and when even a trip to the grocery store is a risk, the sight of a massive indoor gathering, with people cheering and packed together will be jarring to watch.
Health workers worried about Trump’s Tulsa rally
The rally will go ahead despite the fact that Tulsa, which will host the President on Saturday recorded, recorded yet another new high in coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The same is true for the state of Oklahoma. Tulsa’s top health official said he wished the President wouldn’t come to an event that could act as a super spreader event to seed virus hotspots and for which supporters must sign an undertaking to not sue Trump if they get sick. Doctors have also asked for the event to be called off.
“Without looking at the data, you can get a sense of the risk that a large gathering puts all of us in,” said Dr. Jabraan Pasha, an internal medicine specialist with University of Oklahoma Physicians on “AC 360.”
“We are in a spot right now where even without a potential gathering of this size we are concerned with the trajectory of these positive cases,” he said.
Yet the President told Gray Television on Wednesday he wasn’t worried about his supporters.
“No, because if you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was,” the President said. “It’s dying out.”
A CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows that 10 US states are currently seeing their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus cases per day since the crisis began.
CNN medical analyst Art Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Health, warned that the President would use rally goers as a “photo-op.”
“The people who come to the rally, they don’t care about them except as a photo-op, because they’re going to kill some of them and some of their family and friends,” Caplan told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
Caplan also laid into the President over his refusal to wear a mask as more evidence emerges that many Americans are not taking a simple precaution that can save lives.
“If the President wants to just say, ‘Look, I don’t care, I’m just going back to business as usual because that’s what I need to get reelected,’ that may work as politics – but you know, no pandemic was ever defeated by a politician. It’s defeated by public health.”