When we talk about Donald Trump’s behavior in office, all too often we lose sight of the fact that the presidency is an actual job. When you start to think of it that way, his already deranged behavior seems even more bizarre.
Donald Trump doesn’t like his job. He’s bad at his job. He doesn’t even actually do his job. For all these reasons and more, he was just fired from his job. Unlike most people toiling in jobs they hate, he doesn’t actually need his job. But for some reason, he still wants his job back and doesn’t want anyone else to have his job, either.
Why would anyone do this? Because, of course, Donald Trump doesn’t approach the presidency like a job. He sees it as a pathway to corrupt wealth, a shield against prosecution, as a scourge to use against perceived enemies, and of course as a way to look like a winner. The actual functions and duties of the presidency are not his concern. He spends more time watching garbage cable news than focusing on matters of state, more time golfing that reading memos.
So it should come as no surprise that in the waning months of his presidency, he has spent almost no time governing. Instead, he is raising hundreds of millions dollars into a slush fund for future use; he is continuing to bully his enemies both within and outside of the Republican Party; he is fretting over the prospect of future prosecutions; and above all, he is raging for hours every day about how he isn’t really a loser, a label he fears more than the judgment of history.
So, of course, Donald Trump isn’t lifting a finger to deal with the pandemic now taking over 3,000 American lives every day. He isn’t helping negotiate the relief bill struggling to get through Congress in spite of Republican sabotage. He isn’t saying a word about the massive hack by likely Russian intelligence services against both democracies and private sector businesses all around the world. This isn’t just because Trump has never taken COVID seriously or just because he’s weirdly subservient to Putin. It’s also because he’s functionally terrible at his job and refuses to do anything, much like a lazy teenager who balks at doing their homework.
And yet, Trump still wants to keep the job if the Supreme Court or Congress will somehow gift it to him–and barring that, he is considering running for the job again in 2024.
Any halfway decent political party that cared about governing a nation would refuse to go along with this. But Donald Trump wholly owns the Republican Party for two reasons: first, because he and his brand of politics are more popular than most longtime Republicans are; and second, because the Republican Party itself is now little more than a grab bag of hateful grievances against the country’s liberal, urban and non-white citizens, with quid-pro-quo funding from a collection of corrupt corporate donors. Republicans aren’t interested in a president who will actually do the job. They want a bully with broad executive powers to make liberal Americans suffer, while giving their donors tax cuts and anti-regulation judges. You don’t need a president who actually does his job for that. You might need a dictator, though.
And that’s the challenge. It is often said that America cannot be governed because Democrats and Republicans refuse to abide by the same set of facts. This is true, but underestimates the challenge. Democrats and Republicans aren’t trying to accomplish the same goals, and don’t have the same expectations of a government or a president. Democrats broadly see America and the world as beset by a series of problems, and they elect leaders who they expect will do the job of solving those problems. The turnover and accountability mechanisms of democracy are important to make sure that elected officials actually perform their duties. Republicans, on the other hand, see the government as a tool of power to be used against their domestic opponents, a shield to protect themselves from accountability, and otherwise a hindrance to be ignored. Trump-as-president is the apotheosis of that philosophy: a lazy, indifferent, corrupted bully interested more in the power of the position than the job itself.