Donald Trump’s is a historical presidency. Just ask him about it.
Trump on Thursday morning emerged from a merciful days-long Twitter silence to beat his breast over the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the scandals that have lately engulfed his White House. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump tweeted. At least it’s not being handled like the (actually historical) witch trials of 17th-century New England, a conviction in which required only one corroborating witness. Imagine James Comey with that kind of accusatory power.
Witches have since mysteriously disappeared from Connecticut, which made it safe territory for Trump to give an address at the Coast Guard Academy in New London on Wednesday. He acknowledged there that yet another historical first had been accrued. “No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said. Abraham Lincoln might have gotten some guff from John Wilkes Booth in 1865, but it simply can’t compare to the disapproving gaze of Joe Scarborough.
These sorts of superlative statements frequently dribble from the mouth of Trump, who likes to portray himself as having ventured out onto the tightrope of history where he’s now beating back his enemies with an upturned stool. On counties Trump won during the election: “I think the most ever or just about the most ever” (not even close). On Hillary Clinton: “The worst secretary of state in the history of the United States.” On taxes: “I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.” On his first 100 days: “Just about the most successful in our country’s history.”
Humanity has found the acme of its evolution and it is very orange.
Enough of me being snide. George Will might have described Trump’s rhetorical style as “a drunk with a bullhorn reading aloud James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ under water,” but it’s that same manner of speaking, accessible and forthright, that’s endeared the president to voters tired of listening to politicians who sound like animatronics heisted from “It’s a Small World.” Yes, Trump is devaluing our language, but so, too, was Mitt Romney when he answered every question during the 2012 campaign with the same two mechanical clauses. Trump has set a first here, as the only modern president not reliant on consultants, and good on him for that.
Also, when he refers to himself as a historical phenomenon, it’s not like he’s wrong. Over the past week, it’s been easy to so immerse ourselves in the nitty-gritty details of breaking news—what James Comey knew, what Donald Trump told the Russians—that we don’t pull the camera back and acknowledge just how remarkable all this is. One day, when our politics have stabilized and the scandals have stopped gushing out of the drainpipe, we’ll look back and marvel at the sheer tumultuousness of those hot days of May 2017.
Donald Trump is the first president in American history to fire an FBI director who is actively investigating him. He’s the first president to unwittingly blab classified information to an adversarial foreign power. He’s made it the shortest amount of time into any presidency before falling under investigation by a special counsel (even Bill Clinton endured into his second year before Robert Fiske was appointed to probe Whitewater).
And that’s just what we can quantify. Surely Trump has insulted more people than any other president, set a new record for administrative chaos, and complained the most about his own victimization, though we don’t have metrics against which to measure such things.
His supporters will counter that he’s also faced unparalleled media headwinds and endured more leaks out of both his deep state and his White House than anyone else ever. They’re not wrong about that, but again a Trump superlative comes to mind: “Only I can fix this.” Trump claimed he was better suited for the task of restoring American greatness than anyone else in the country. One would think such an exemplar of competence could easily triumph over a few rumpled journalists at the Washington Post; evidently not.
Trump will indeed occupy an engrossing chapter in our history books, though it’s not likely to be for the reasons he wants. Still, take stock: we do indeed live in interesting times.