Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Donald Trump is incapable of doing the job of President of the United States.

This is true in myriad ways, of course. Per recent reports he is knowingly and openly communicating deeply personal information under surveillance by Russia and China in order to evade the eyes and ears of his own staff, but he is so profoundly ignorant of operational secrets that the national security apparatus barely cares if adversaries are listening in on him. He is obsessed with the poison of TV news, holds ugly pep rallies in lieu of working, uses blatant nepotism in his hiring practices, conducts national and international policy for his own personal profit, lies about all things large and small with giddy and reckless abandon, and ignores matters of importance while fretting over slights and trivialities. And none of that even touches the increasingly abhorrent economic, environmental and social policies of the modern Republican Party that Donald Trump now controls by right of conquest.

But beyond all that–beyond the issues of competence, corruption and policy–the job of the president at an emotional level is to provide stability and reassurance to the nation during times of turmoil. George W. Bush was a terrible president who used the occasion to deceive the country into at least one (if not two) unnecessary and immoral war(s), but at the very least he performed this spiritual duty after the 9/11 attacks with flying colors. Jimmy Carter was a far better president than most give him credit for, but his inability to provide the moral resolve and confidence the nation craved at the time led in part to the rise of Ronald Reagan, an actor whose sunny disposition and engaging confidence pleased most Americans even as they belied corrupt, cruel and catastrophically destructive policies.

Faced with yet another high-profile case of far-right terrorism and a society fraying ever more surely along cultural and partisan lines, Donald Trump is utterly unable to even pretend to unite the country–just as he proved incapable of doing so after the far-right marches in Charlottesville resulted in the death of innocent young activist Heather Heyer at the hands of an extremist right-wing killer. After a fervent Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to over a dozen high-profile liberal and Democratic targets, all the president and his supporters could do was spin conspiracy theories and wallow in even deeper grievance against their opponents and against the media, somehow portraying themselves as the victims in all this.

Of course, the chief reason Trump cannot heal the country is the fact that Trump himself is the one stoking the violence: white supremacists and “men’s rights advocates” sees him as one of their own, and he does nothing to dissuade them. The targets of their anger and their bombs are the targets of his incitements and his barbs. A president who governs explicitly on behalf of an aging and declining political base stewing in cruel resentment and fearful of being culturally and demographically superseded by a younger, more diverse, more ethically conscientious population, cannot possibly bridge the divide toward a united future.

But there’s even more to it than all that. Confronted with political violence in an election season, a president confident in their powers of persuasion and free of crippling fear of legal investigation would to push back on their most extremist supporters. Such a president would see an opportunity to win over persuadable independents by providing leadership and seizing the high ground. And even if it depressed the base and even lost a few seats in the midterms, it would be worth it in the long run for the president, their party and their place in history.

But Donald Trump cannot afford the risk. He and his party know that that they have already abjured most reasonable independent voters in favor of an extremist base mobilization strategy. More importantly, they know that they cannot under any circumstances afford what most politicians would consider the temporary setback of losing a single chamber in Congress after a period of unitary rule. They know that losing the House means investigations of the president’s likely criminal behavior as well as that of his cabinet members and his enablers on Capitol Hill. And they know that none of them can withstand the scrutiny.

So not only is the president simply unable by virtue of his personality defects to provide the country the counseling and solace it requires to avoid burning to the ground even if he weren’t the political wildfire’s principal arsonist. He also cannot help but take the most nakedly, aggressively partisan tone full of fear and hatred because losing even one chamber of Congress in November might put his presidency, his ill-gotten fortune and even his very personal liberty at risk.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.