Donald Trump is a bad President and a worse person. That much has been established. It has always been such. From cheating on his pregnant wife to refusing to believe 5 black and Latino teenagers were innocent of raping a white woman even after it had been unambiguously proven that they were framed, Trump has shown his cards from day one. He’s vain, narcissistic, petty, and prejudiced, all the things we teach our children not to be.
But there’s another facet of Trump that goes beyond all the traits listed above. He has an allure that few others do. He sucks people into his orbit such that they cannot leave or even look away. This is as true for those that hate him as it is for those who love him. It was easy for conservatives with a deep hatred for Obama to simply tune him out. Liberals who feel the same about Trump don’t have that luxury.
During the Obama era, the President made news. In the Trump era, the President is news. Seemingly nothing exists out of the context of the inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Whether it’s an article about a legal situation, a podcast about local political races, or a broadcast about a public policy issue, you can be almost certain Trump’s name is going to be brought up in some relation. He has entirely redefined the political environment and all its constituent parts.
But it’s not just the fact that he’s alluring. That’s been true of a number of Presidents. Rather it’s that he makes us all stoop to his level. Twitter is the most self-evident manifestation of this. When the President tweets, using his unique combination of narcissism, bitterness, and disheveling attacks on perceived enemies, the Twitter world reorients itself around that tweet. It sets the context of the day and, because the President’s tweets are almost unanimously nasty, it makes the reaction nasty. Hundreds of journalists and partisans spend the proceeding hour quote tweeting him with angry responses unbefitting of their character.
It is yet to be determined what the long lasting effects of the Trump presidency will be. It may be the broken norms, the redefined federal judiciary, the dismantlement of the administrative state, or other unforeseen disturbances. That said, the short term effects of Trumpism are clear. He makes decent people do fundamentally indecent things. He makes smart people dumb down their rhetoric. He makes happy people angry.
Whenever the Trump Presidency ends, we as a country are going to need a pallet cleanse.