There’s an old saying that if you wait long enough, every historical figure gets rehabilitated — or at least outdone, in the worst ways, by their successors. But if you’d asked me a few months ago for an exception to that rule, I would have cited former President Richard Nixon, forced to resign in disgrace for obstruction of justice and brazen contempt for the Constitution. And then along came Donald Trump. Firing the attorney general for standing up to the president? Check. Attempting to interfere with a Justice Department investigation? Check. Threatening the FBI director? That’s a new one. Revealing classified information to the Russians? Also a new one. And most of that was just this week’s news. In retrospect, Richard Nixon starts looking better and better. He understood foreign policy. He didn’t tweet. There is reason to believe he actually consulted with his advisers, none of whom, to my knowledge, were making secret deals with the Russians. He actually won the 1972 election handily. He didn’t need the “plumbers,” didn’t need to hack the Democratic National Committee, didn’t even need a slush fund. Five months into the Trump presidency, can things really be this bad? Obviously, I didn’t vote for Trump. I didn’t think he was qualified to be president. I wasn’t alone. Many Republicans agreed with me. But I don’t know anyone — even the staunchest Hillary-ites — who predicted how badly things would go under Trump. No, we are not at war. The economy has not collapsed. Unemployment is actually down. Donald Trump may be the first man to prove that, in many respects, the president is actually irrelevant. But not in every respect. Our Founding Fathers have never looked so brilliant, with their system of checks and balances. The judiciary has never been so important. The Republican Senators who no longer fear distancing themselves from Trump — and in fact now have every reason to fear being seen as too close — may be our best hope. A strong democracy can survive a great deal. But that doesn’t make it healthy. It doesn’t make us stronger in the world. It doesn’t make us the world leader we need to be. It doesn’t command the respect of friends and foes. Donald Trump is on his way, if he is not already there, to being a laughing stock. Not respected. Not feared. Laughed at. Ridiculed. Viewed as a fool in an office that is way too big for him. This is not about ideology. It is not about partisanship. As a Democrat, I suppose I should be pleased. As an American, I am deeply troubled. Around the world, brave young men and women are putting their lives on the line to protect freedom and democracy. Around the world, we face new threats and unimaginable crises. And here we have a leader who cannot go a single day without messing something up. We have a team that has no control of its leader. We have a successful campaign manager who told reporters — before the election — that she felt like taking a shower every time she went on television to defend him. She knew him better than we did. She was right.Susan Estrich is an author and law professor, and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.
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