Two separate but related stories in a single day demonstrate not only the bottomless viciousness of Donald Trump, but also his lack of creativity and guile.
First, the firing of Andrew McCabe just two days before he was to vest in his pension. McCabe angered the president by speaking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It was well known that McCabe was waiting until Sunday to retire, but Trump demanded that Attorney General Sessions fire him just hours in advance out of simple, petty vindictiveness.
The firing is almost certainly illegal (if an employer could legally fire employees without good cause just days before they could vest in a pension, it would happen all the time.) Any fig leaf Trump might have had in alleging firing for cause, he immediately burned away with a juvenile tweet that made it clear that McCabe’s firing was all about James Comey:
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
That tweet will almost certainly be used against Trump both in a lawsuit by McCabe, and by Robert Mueller himself in the obstruction of justice indictment against the president.
So why do it? Partly because Trump has no decency or self-control. But more than that, it was the aggressive warning shot of a temperamental raging bully trying to scare off any future enemies or betrayers. It was a message to any other federal employee of what might happen to them if they cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
The same motivation applies to Trump’s preposterous $20 million lawsuit against adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Regardless of the truth, a cagier, perhaps wiser man would have simply let Ms. Daniels tell her story, and deny it as the confabulation of an attention seeker. Powerful men with more resources than honor have done this from time immemorial. But not Donald Trump. Trump knows that there are many other women out there with non-disclosure agreements and stories to tell:
On Thursday, the attorney representing adult-film star Stormy Daniels — Michael Avenatti — told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has been approached by six other women who allege having similar stories about President Donald Trump.
Avenatti stressed that the women have not yet been thoroughly vetted “to any great degree,” but he noted that at least two of them have nondisclosure agreements, as Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) does. “The initial consultations, the initial information that we’re receiving indicates that there are some striking similarities between their stories and that of my client, Ms. Clifford,” Avenatti told Cooper.
The $20 million lawsuit is an attempt to scare them all off and shut them up, just as the firing of McCabe was intended to scare and silence federal employees.
Bullying is the only tactic Donald Trump knows. This behavior is incredibly commonplace for high-functioning sociopaths, especially ones with more money than sense and who couldn’t pass a marshmallow test even as adults.
Like so many others before him, Trump has gotten away with this behavior all his life because it was never worth enough of anyone’s time and attention to call his bluff. Men like Trump are shameless and willing to stop at nothing, which means that normal people are never willing to go quite as far as they would. It’s usually easier to settle and walk away than to do what would be required to bring the villain to his knees, so the blackguard continues to careen through life like a bull in a china shop, damaging people and institutions until he finally gets caught in a jailable offense or until his internal organs finally say enough is enough.
Time will tell if the the spotlight of presidency proves the undoing of Trump and his sad, one-note intimidation tactics. Certainly, nothing will come of it as long as Republicans hold Congress. But a post-midterm change of scenery in Washington might seriously alter the equation.
At that point, if Trump follows the typical path of the bully sociopath, he will choose to run away when he can no longer intimidate. If not, the only question remains how far he will try to push the levers of government before either he breaks them entirely–or they break him.