If Watergate had happened today, so the joke goes, it would be called Watergate-gate. Yet the inevitable comparisons between Trump and Nixon continue unabated without any obvious mainstream descent (yet, anyway) into something perfectly dreadful like “Trumpgate.” Just give it time.
One reason for this absent recourse to so obvious a cliche might have something to do with the staggering differences of their crimes. Richard Nixon, for all his faults, really was “not a crook” – or at least not a career one. Donald Trump, unlike Nixon, is a career criminal. Donald Trump practices crime the way the rest of us breathe, as an almost unconscious reflex. And he’s been doing it so long he doesn’t really know any other way.
Trump resorts to a lie when the truth would do as well, sometimes better, because “working the angle” is simply irresistible to him. Trump resorts to crime with the identical reflexive ease. That “Trump the businessman” or “Trump the politician” are the go-to adjectives of the mainstream press should not obscure for any of us the underlying truth of the matter. Make no mistake, Donald Trump is a criminal, first and last.
I realize that we Americans are unused to calling the President of the United States a criminal. This is true in part because our presidents tend not to be criminals. But it is also true because we are too often prepared to give men in power (and yes, it’s almost always men, and white men at that) a special pass.
Consider, for example, this definition of “serial killer” taken from the Internet: “A person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behavior pattern.” Doesn’t that definition fit Vladimir Putin? Yet journalists will call him “president,” “leader,” even “statesman” long before they will call him “serial killer.” Yet “serial killer” is what he truly is.
And so, too, Donald Trump truly is a criminal. Those of us reticent to do so should drop the niceties and start referring to him as such every opportunity we get. Donald Trump is a thief, a conman, a fraudster, in short, a criminal. It’s time to dispense with the euphemisms and call him what he is.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.