Donald Trump Is America's Anti-President | Opinion

After just one week of public impeachment hearings, Donald Trump has unmistakably emerged as America's anti-president, the very model of the charlatan George Washington warned might be overtaken by "the insidious wiles of foreign influence."

We have learned that Trump is so obsessed with the legitimacy of his 2016 election—and so terrified of becoming a private citizen (subject to indictment and imprisonment) after the 2020 election—that he embraces a conspiratorial myth of Ukrainian responsibility for Russian lawlessness hatched by an oligarch in Vladimir Putin's orbit. We have heard an official's first-hand account of a president so beholden to Putin that he blithely dismisses Russia's aggression as not "big stuff" compared with a public announcement by Ukraine's new president to the effect that, contrary to fact, its government is investigating (nonexistent) corruption by Trump's political rival.

We have heard direct evidence of a president utterly indifferent to Ukraine's survival and to the lives of its patriotic defenders. We have seen a president wholly unconcerned with the danger to our national security of strengthening Russia's hand in any negotiations with Ukraine, disinterested in the threat to global stability of positioning America as an unreliable ally and brazenly willing to usurp Congress' authority for over five months to direct the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to Ukraine's defense.

We have witnessed a president who imagines he can deny all guilt simply because, caught red-handed, he finally released the appropriated funds, many months after promising to do so and well after doing irreparable harm in the interim. And we have watched a president blatantly engage in witness intimidation through his Twitter feed on live television during the testimony of one of the career diplomats who had the courage to resist his lawless demand that everyone in the government he heads defy Congress' impeachment proceedings.

Anyone who genuinely wondered as recently as this spring what impeachable offenses this imposter of a president has committed must now wonder instead which of his multitude of impeachable offenses to highlight and how best to label them.

There will be time, once the House Intelligence Committee concludes its public hearings and transmits its report to the Judiciary Committee, to determine how best to wrap the indisputable abuses of power, betrayals of the nation and corruption of the presidential office into appropriately labeled articles of impeachment. What must not get lost in the process of categorizing and naming this man's grotesque betrayals of his oath, however, is how shamelessly he has exposed himself as not merely "unpresidential"—the moniker he has proudly embraced more than once—but as anti-presidential.

More than unpresidential, Trump represents the perfect exemplar of what Alexander Hamilton darkly envisioned when he described the danger that a demagogue might one day assume the presidency and require removal through the awesome power of impeachment. Such a demagogue, Hamilton prophesied, would be "a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper...despotic in his ordinary demeanour." Such a man, Hamilton wrote, would one day "mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day" with the object of "throw[ing] things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'" Such a man, we should all be able to see now, is Donald J. Trump.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump is pictured in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 15 in Washington, D.C.

Many challenges confront those who believe this anti-president must be impeached and removed from office before he has the opportunity to manipulate another election. Perhaps the most ironic and least well understood of those challenges is the strand in the American character and culture that falls in love with antiheroes, or at least embraces them in film, literature and the other virtual realities in which so many of us spend increasingly significant parts of our lives. Implicitly invoking characters like Kratos in God of War, Dante in Devil May Cry or Big Boss in Metal Gear, Trump lumbers across the stage to bask in the dark light of hateful and increasingly violent chants.

A recent campaign ad produced by Brad Parscale, manager of Trump's re-election campaign and a Steve Bannon acolyte, depicts Trump as a swaggering bully—reminiscent perhaps of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry or Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator—and proudly announces "He's no Mister Nice Guy." Elected in no small part because of, not in spite of, his image as a non-political battering ram who won't hesitate to badmouth his opponents and smash every institution in sight, Trump thrives on many of the very features that make him so dangerous to the rule of law. There is no guarantee that he will ever be held to account for his depredations. But labeling him as the anti-president that he most assuredly is represents a start toward that goal.

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard. He is the co-author, most recently, of To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. Follow him on Twitter @tribelaw.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.