As the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, gave public testimony during the House Intelligence Committee’s second public impeachment hearing Friday, President Donald J. Trump unleashed a bizarre tweet attack, claiming, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”
Aside from the absurdity of blaming the ambassador for decades of turmoil in Somalia, Trump’s clear intent, as committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., noted, was to intimidate future witnesses and maybe even convince them not to testify.
While Trump may have deluded himself into believing that this kind of bullying projects strength, I think it reveals the exact opposite. Donald Trump is afraid. This is a man who has spent the entirety of his adult life plastering his name on skyscrapers and casinos; this is a man who is obsessed with his own legacy. And that’s why impeachment is the permanent stain that Trump deserves — and one he clearly fears.
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While Trump may have deluded himself into believing that this kind of bullying projects strength, I think it reveals the exact opposite.
Axios reported recently that Trump has said privately impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume.” He doesn’t want impeachment to be the first thing written about him in the world's history books.
Conventional wisdom suggests that there are enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House to successfully impeach Trump, while the Senate will vote against it. But when it comes to Trump and how he is wired, it may not matter if he is thrown out of office. The fact that he would go down in history as only the third president ever to be impeached would psychologically cripple him.
Think about how Trump’s self-obsession manifests itself. In August, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, Trump visited a hospital in El Paso, Texas, and proceeded to brag about the crowd size at an earlier campaign rally, saying, “the place was packed … that was some crowd and we had twice the number outside.” During a rally last summer in Minnesota, the supposedly populist president riffed on “the elite” declaring, “I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are, I’m richer than they are.” Even his infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment during the 2016 campaign was also a brag. Before going on to make what sure sounded like an endorsement of sexual assault, Trump noted “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Trump revels in his own celebrity, fame and wealth. But what we’re talking about right now is infamy on a historic scale. Impeachment is his scarlet letter, a public rebuke that will be very hard to dismiss or minimize (although we can be sure that he’ll try).
And the increasing public meltdowns we have seen from the president suggest the fear of impeachment is getting to him.
It wasn’t long ago that the president of the United States tweeted about the possibility of “a Civil War like fracture” if he was impeached. Trump has begun to recycle his Mueller mantra describing this as “The Greatest Witch Hunt in American history!” He tweeted a fake conspiracy theory about changes to a whistleblower report that never happened. He even called for the resignation of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, suggesting he “should be looked at for treason.”
Trump’s tantrums reveal a fragility that is dominating his decision-making. It’s panic, masquerading as strength. He’s not even trying to hide his self-pity, tweeting, “there has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have.”
Trump’s unhinged tweets and press outbursts are a manifestation of what feels a lot like desperation. And the more desperate Trump becomes, the more outrageous his rhetoric will become and the more his paranoia will grow. He will continue to howl and bark in the hopes that he can both scare anyone willing to cooperate with impeachment and maintain his GOP-firewall of protection. But just remember, like any bully, the louder he yells, the more scared he is.