Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Donald Trump Definitely Learned His Lesson

He knows exactly who he's dealing with now.
February 8, 2020
Donald Trump Definitely Learned His Lesson
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

We should have expected that a speech tasked with unpacking “our Country’s VICTORY over the Impeachment Hoax!” would be crazy.

But none of us could have possibly predicted just how crazy it turned out to be.

Imagine Watergate, if Republicans had refused to listen to the tapes and instead decided that “Nixon was sorry and wouldn’t do it again. Probably.”

Imagine if there was no John Dean.

If Nixon were incredibly, shockingly, breathtakingly stupid and the father of two failsons, who spent their days tweeting and instagraming memes that degraded their daddy’s enemies.

Imagine if Nixon had an entire network devoted to pumping out propaganda to support his criming.

And then imagine if, instead of resigning in disgrace and retiring from public life, Nixon slugged it out, forced his party to walk the plank for him, and then took a victory lap where he basically danced to Edith Piaf, but with lots of sniffing and some Stage 3 dementia.

Because that’s what Thursday was. Except that the reality of it was somehow more repulsive than the idea of it.

Trump’s victory lap was, as usual, terrifying.

Remember what Bill Clinton did after he got off on impeachment? (yswidt?) He held a press conference, too. But it went like this:

Here’s how Clinton opened his brief remarks:

Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.

Yeah, that’s right. He went out and apologized to the country. Did he “learn his lesson”? Who knows. If you choose to believe that Clinton never again stuck Slick Willy where he wasn’t supposed to be, then that’s up to you. But the point is that Clinton at least understood that he was supposed to be sorry for creating such a gigantic cock-up for the country.

But Trump?

He was jubilant.

And when he’s jubilant he’s high energy.

And when he’s high energy, he’s riffing.

And when he’s riffing, you get the Full Trump, which is peak insane-boomer-internet-commenter Trump. All of his many Trumpism were in full display. It’s like watching Lou Dobbs, minus a couple dozen IQ points.

It started out like a “normal” Trump rally speech. Then things devolved. (You may have noticed that this is a thing which happens a lot.) The president of the United States said “bullshit” on network television, in the middle of the day. Then it was on to Bob Mueller, poor broken-brained Devin Nunes, polls from the 2016 election, the Steele dossier, open borders, sanctuary cities, Democrats wanting to raise your taxes, Bob Mueller, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, Russia, Russia, Russia, Alabama, Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and crazy Debbie Lesko.

In a funny way, it’s probably just as fruitful to examine Trump’s East Room remarks by looking at the negative space: Who didn’t Trump thank in his bizarro-world Oscar speech?

He thanks his lawyers. He thanked many of the less-intellectually vigorous members of Congress. He thanked his third wife and his daughter, Ivanka. He thanked the New York Post.

Who’s missing? This guy!

The mayor of Crazy Town, USA. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump never mentioned his close personal friend and free lawyer and shadow secretary of State Rudy Giuliani.

If the fates of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are any guide, this does not bode well.

But maybe Rudy will be okay. After all, while Trump was doing his thing, his other personal lawyer—sorry, “personal lawyer”—Bill Barr, sat in the front row, nodding along.

Full Trump is the only being in the universe powerful enough to make a normal person long Teleprompter Trump. But one of the things I keep wondering about is, now that Trump has proven that he is totally, absolutely, invincible, will we ever see Teleprompter Trump again?

I tend to think not.

The last time Trump was emboldened was after the Mueller report “exonerated” him. A day later he was trying to get Ukraine to announce an investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden.

So where does this all go? Will Trump try to get President XI to hack Nancy Pelosi’s emails? Will Trump try to get Kim Jong-un to investigate Mayor Pete? Earlier in the week Susan Collins mused that “I hoped that the president would’ve learned from the fact that he was impeached by the House.” By week’s end, Collins was conceding, “I may not be correct on that. It’s more aspirational on my part.”

You don’t say.

Anyone who has spent five minutes studying the life of Donald Trump knows that every time he dodges a bullet, he becomes more, not less, reckless.

Which means that the lesson he was destined to take from impeachment was that he can get away with everything and anything. Trump learned that he owns the Republican party, that they will do whatever he wants, that they will sign off on all his criming.

Trump learned a lesson this week, he learned that he is our mad king and nothing and no one can stop him. And the sad thing is: He’s right.

Molly Jong-Fast

Molly Jong-Fast is a contributor to The Bulwark and the author of three books. Follow her on Twitter @MollyJongFast.