The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Study in Self-Pity

President Donald Trump attends a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Chris Wallace’s interview of President Trump, which aired on Sunday, is well worth watching if you’ve got a strong stomach.

The parts about the pandemic are as terrifying as you’ve heard—a veritable catalog of unfitness, incompetence, and willful ignorance that will leave you grateful for America’s system of federalism.

But I actually thought the most interesting and telling bit of the interview was at the very end, and wasn’t about the virus. Here’s the final question and answer:

WALLACE: Whether it’s in 2021 or 2025, how will you regard your years as President of the United States?

TRUMP: I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation.

WALLACE: But what about the good –

TRUMP: Russia, Russia, Russia.

WALLACE: But what about the good parts, sir?

TRUMP: No, no. I want to go this. I have done more than any president in history in the first three and a half years, and I’ve done it suffering through investigations where people have been – General Flynn, where people have been so unfairly treated.

The Russia hoax, it was all a hoax. The Mueller scam, it was all scam. It was all false. I made a bad decision on – one bad decision. Jeff Sessions, and now I feel good because he lost overwhelmingly in the great state of Alabama.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve been very unfairly treated, and I don’t say that as paranoid. I’ve been very – everybody says it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. But there was tremendous evidence right now as to how unfairly treated I was. President Obama and Biden spied on my campaign. It’s never happened in history. If it were the other way around, the people would be in jail for 50 years right now.

That would be Comey, that would be Brennan, that would be all of this – the two lovers, Strzok and Page, they would be in jail now for many, many years. They would be in jail, it would’ve started two years ago and they’d be there for 50 years. The fact is, they illegally spied on my campaign. Let’s see what happens. Despite that, I did more than any president in history in the first three and a half years.

WALLACE: Mr. President, thank you, thanks for talking with us.

TRUMP: Thank you, thank you very much.

Asked to reflect on his term so far as he seeks re-election, the president’s answer is that he was treated unfairly. Even when he is literally invited by his interviewer to say good things about himself, all he can reach for is resentment.

There is more to this than there might seem to be at first. The sense that he was being treated unfairly had a huge amount to do with why Donald Trump ran for president in the first place, and the sense that they were being treated unfairly had a lot to do with why his earliest supporters and voters found him appealing. Channeling resentment is near the source of his political prowess.

And of course, he’s not wrong. The sense of resentment he has channeled has been rooted in some important realities, and even his own sense that he has been treated unfairly by his opponents as president is not mistaken. Sure he has. But that this sense of resentment is chiefly what drives him, that he can’t see past it or point beyond it, has been a crucial factor in many of his biggest failures as an executive.

He has treated the world’s most powerful job as a stage from which to vent his frustrations with the world’s mistreatment of him, and this has often kept him from advancing durable aims, from capitalizing on opportunities, from learning from mistakes, and from leading. In reasonably good times, it meant that he turned our national politics into a reality-television performance—focused, as those often are, on the drama of bruised egos. But in a time of crisis, it has left him incapable of rising to the challenge of his job, and the consequences have been dire.

In other words, his answer seems right: Whether it’s in 2021 or 2025, the blinding power of self-pity and resentment may well end up being what stands out most when we regard Donald Trump’s years as President of the United States.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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