Self-inflicted wounds: The unkindest cut of all

All politicians screw up at one time or another. That seems axiomatic, especially with the record setting performance of Donald Trump. He may be unique, but he’s not the only president to shoot himself in the foot with his own words.

Just this week one of his biggest misfires was exposed, the one that he said he couldn’t release his tax returns because they were being audited by the IRS. Turns out they weren’t audited at all (at least, not until a Congressional committee began asking why not). Maybe he just didn’t want us to know that he paid little or no taxes – in fact, zero taxes for his final year in office. When called on that by Hillary Clinton during his 2016 campaign he explained why he paid less than minimum wage workers at McDonalds: “Because I’m smart.”

That is a part of what has made Donald Trump a failed and disgraced leader. He may have a lot of company but that is little compensation for a man of such towering ego and diminutive competence.

The history of Washington is filled with stories of those damaged not by their enemies but by self-inflicted wounds. Trump may hold the world record, but he is not alone.

Not all self-inflicted wounds are fatal. Trump won that election. The next time he lost to Joe Biden, whose own self-inflicted wound killed his first run for the presidency in 1988 when he plagiarized a speech by a British politician.

All modern presidents have fallen victims to pedicide with results ranging from embarrassment to impeachment and resignation. This list is not all inclusive, just illustrative.

Herbert Hoover thought free market forces would be enough to solve the Great Depression without government intervention. FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court and his own party turned against him. Lyndon Johnson listened to too many generals about the Vietnam War. That poor judgement overshadowed his remarkable domestic achievements.

Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon, the Watergate coverup. Gerald Ford thought he could whip inflation with a button; he also pardoned Nixon and thought Communist Poland was “free.”  His “reassessment” of US-Israel relations was a blunder.

Jimmy Carter discomforted the nation with talk of a “national malaise.” He looked helpless in the wake of Iranian militants taking some 70 Americans hostage at the US Embassy for 444 days.

Ronald Reagan had the Iran Contra scandal. He sided with Iraq in its war with Iran and halted arms for Israel as punishment for bombing the Iraqi reactor.

George H.W. Bush promised “No new taxes” and couldn’t keep his word. (Of course, most presidents make promises they can’t or even don’t intend to keep, but this was a spectacular blunder that, to use his term, landed him in “deep doo-doo.”)

Bill Clinton’s libido got him impeached. Letting his wife handle his healthcare legislation with a secretive claque of aides and not including all interested parties doomed it from the start. A good idea killed by poor staffing.

George W. Bush start two long, costly and needless wars, one because “they tried to kill my daddy.” How many Americans died because he lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction? He wound up installing a pro-Iranian government in Iraq.

Obama bypassed Israel on his first Mideast trip. He hesitated too long on the enactment of Obamacare, giving opponents an advantage in mounting opposition, and then the rollout of was botched.

A great irony is that Trump’s hubris — and other character flaws, no doubt — will mark him as one of the worst presidents in history.

Had he possessed the intelligence and character to follow the tradition and the example of all previous presidents by graciously conceding defeat and an providing the peaceful transfer of power (others who have questioned the outcome nonetheless did so, notably Nixon in 1960 and Gore in 2000), as many of his advisors, cabinet members and others told him, he could have left office with a large public following, no investigations, no likelihood of criminal charges and with honor. And he could have been the unchallenged leader of his party and a shoo-in for the 2024 nomination with a good chance of returning to the White House.

Instead, thanks to his own hubris and penchant for pedicide, including the nefarious mob of sycophants who blindly fed his voracious ego and denial and stormed the Capitol, he is headed not to the Oval Office but the dung heap of history.

His enemies can’t be blamed. He didn’t need any help. He did it his way. With his tweets, speeches, phone calls, grifts, denials, lies, his own words.

Trump likes to think of himself as unique among presidents. The top of the list. This is one time he can deservedly take all the credit. He is a victim of self-inflicted wounds and they may be fatal to his political ambitions.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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