Following what political commentators could only call the best day in his presidency, Donald Trump had the opportunity to show America that he is a man of character worthy to be the president of the United States.
And he failed.
Following 22 months of investigation into now discredited allegations that Mr. Trump colluded with Russian operatives seeking to influence the 2016 presidential race to prevent former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from being elected, no one could blame the president for feeling a sense of both relief and vindication. It would be nothing less than natural for anyone living through nearly two years of scrutiny, recrimination and invective to let out a massive sigh of relief that such a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
But it is moments like the one enjoyed today by Mr. Trump that show the world the real nature of a man’s character; moments like these when a man has an opportunity to demonstrate who he really is and what truly resides in his heart.
Showing character, dignity and grace in moments of victory is how truly great men rise above others and show why they deserve the honor of being followed. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps America’s greatest president, took such an opportunity on 11 April 1865 when he addressed a large crowd assembled on the lawn of the White House to celebrate news that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had just surrendered the South. Instead of gloating over the North’s victory, Mr. Lincoln chose, instead, to focus the crowd’s attention on what was important ahead of them: returning the rebel states to the Union and restoring a “righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”
Martin Luther King Jr. showed similar wisdom and grace during his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. As black Americans, rebelling against decades of racism, injustice and violence directed at them by white Americans were rising up and demanding that their voices be heard, Dr. King reminded them that they had a duty to take the high road as they sought justice for themselves.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And Ronald Reagan, during his first inaugural address on 20 January 1981, took that high road to honor President Jimmy Carter, who he had just defeated the previous November by a landslide. To the former president sitting in attendance, Mr. Reagan spoke of the “miracle” that is the orderly and peaceful transition of power in the United States and praised Mr. Carter, rather than himself, for the work the former president and his people did to insure that transfer took place.
Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.
But, when given a similar opportunity to show that we remain a “united people” eager to move the country forward in a way that benefits all Americans, President Trump declined. Instead, as he has his whole life, Mr. Trump chose to further drive a wedge between the people of this country.
So after a long look, after a long investigation, after so many people have been so badly hurt, after not looking at the other side, where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of very bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.
It is a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it is a shame that your president had to go through this for before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally and hopefully somebody is going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed. And, hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side. So, its complete exoneration. No collusion. No obstruction. Thank you.
Instead of urging the nation to put the investigation behind them, to move forward on issues that are important to the well-being of the nation, President Trump, instead, directed the people’s attention to his grievances. “To be honest, it is a shame that your president had to go through this” and “hopefully somebody is going to look at the other side.”
No thank you to Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his outstanding work, for the great service he did for his country or for his consummately professional conduct during the investigation. No apology for calling Mr. Mueller’s work a “witch hunt” or for accusing the former FBI man of having “big time conflicts of interest.” Similarly, no appreciation for Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein’s ethical and patriotic conduct, nor an apology for accusing him of actions that were “illegal and treasonous.”
At a time when Mr. Trump could have chosen to rise above the partisanship that he and his supporters regularly accuse others of committing, he chose the low road, once again. Implying that the president expects “somebody,” meaning the Justice Department to “look at the other side,” meaning anyone who opposed Mr. Trump and supported the investigation into his conduct, not only is beneath the dignity of the office of the president, it is also grossly unethical and indicative of a man willing to use the power of his office to get revenge. This may appeal to his supporters, but Mr. Trump’s comments will, undoubtedly, appall and alarm those who believe America is a better country than that.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Trump and his supporters will relish today’s news and will make political hay of it over the weeks and months ahead. Undoubtedly, the president’s mouth pieces on Fox News and other Trump-friendly sites will ratchet up the sense of grievance already at epidemic levels in the nationalist right over their perception the president has been victimized by an anti-Trump conspiracy against their man. This flood of outrage may even result in a significant boost in the president’s approval ratings.
But, the bump in the polls they are likely to get from the release of the Mueller Report will be short-lived if they choose to turn this newly-gained political momentum into a real “witch hunt” against Mr. Trump’s political foes and completely miss the opportunity to bring Americans together.