President Donald Trump's administration is a historic low point for the United States, said historian Robert Dallek to Vox.com, but he said the country has survived greater turmoil than the current "disaster."
"This administration is a low point in our history," said Dallek to Vox's Sean Illing. There have been corrupt presidents before, but "the shamelessness of this administration, the dishonesty, the total indifference to facts, is something I haven’t seen before — at least not this blatant. I think it’s demoralized people and made them even more cynical about politics."
Dallek said Trump's administration is the most flamboyantly corrupt and dishonest that he has ever studied and that is all traceable to the chief executive.
"Often you see a lot of corruption result from a lack of oversight, but I think this administration is quite different in that Trump really sets the tone for all this," he explained. "He encourages it, really. The fish rots from the head, and the stench of this administration starts at the very top."
"Politicians lie, but this is different," he said. Presidents Warren G. Harding, Ulysses S. Grant and Bill Clinton were all caught telling lies that sullied their reputations and will remain blots on their presidencies, but Trump's total unwillingness to accept or even acknowledge the facts on the ground is unprecedented in U.S. politics.
The public isn't buying it, however. Dallek noted that Trump has never cracked 50 percent approval with the public for his whole first year in office, which he called a "political disaster."
"(N)ow we have a president who outright lies about ... everything," said Dallek. "He lies about the number of votes he received, about the size of his inauguration crowd, about his own achievements, about Muslims cheering in the streets after 9/11, and so on. He lies about basic observable facts. I think the cumulative effect of all this lying is to make people deeply cynical about our entire system, and that’s very corrupting."
Part of what he said that he finds so bewildering about Trump is that a number of his lies serve no practical purpose.
"It’s pathological. This is the kind of thing you see when you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist, someone who believes everything revolves around him. Trump has to be the best, has to be admired, has to be the most successful. He lacks a rational restraint that you would hope to see in a leader or a president," he said.
What happens next is up to the American people, Dallek said. They can become even more cynical and disengaged from the political process or Trump could have the opposite effect of galvanizing Americans into action.