If there's one thing we know about Donald Trump, it's that he not only loves getting away with wicked behavior, but he also enjoys flaunting it when he does so. As the record shows, Trump has consistently boasted that he's above the rules and norms governing moral behavior.
In the face of numerous indictments full of damning evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin's military intelligence broke the law by stealing emails from Democratic officials, and then used WikiLeaks and Republican officials to use the stolen emails for propaganda purposes, most politicians in Trump's situation would try to claim innocence. Guilty or not, they would be eager to discourage fears that they were selling out the country to a foreign adversary.
This article first appeared in Salon.
Not Donald Trump, however. The president spent the past few days defiantly rubbing our noses in his undeniable support for Vladimir Putin's efforts to undermine democratic states and international peacekeeping efforts. Trump used his trip to attack NATO and called the European Union a "foe," while using Twitter to claim that the allegations of election interference are a "Rigged Witch Hunt" and painting Russia's government as an innocent victim. He doubled down on this strategy during Monday's joint press conference with Putin, where the two leaders offered a unified front of obviously false denials of Russia's crimes against Americans.
Whatever Trump is or isn't guilty of behind the scenes, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post argued, he "is currently in the process of repaying Putin for helping to deliver him the presidency," and the collusion is happening right out in public. Trump is parading around his allegiance to Putin, relishing the fact that he can commit what looks quite a bit like treason right in front of people's faces, all without paying any price for it.
This may seem nuts — typically, we expect people to make some sort of effort to conceal their unethical and criminal behavior — but it fits the larger pattern of Trump's life. He really likes doing bad things and getting away with it, and he especially likes bragging about it.
"When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," Trump famously told Billy Bush on a hot mic in 2005. "Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything."
In the same year, Trump told Howard Stern that one of "the funniest" things in his life was that he could go backstage at a Miss USA pageant while "everyone's getting dressed," bragging that no other men got to do that, but he could "because I'm the owner of the pageant and therefore I'm inspecting it." Trump added that he loves how he can "get away with things like that."
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," Trump gloated on the campaign trail.
"My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy," Trump exalted at another campaign event. "I’ve grabbed all the money I could get."
During a presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton accused Trump of hiding his history of not paying taxes, he sneered, "That makes me smart."
In March, Trump gleefully recounted his efforts to gaslight Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau about the nature of the trade deficit between the two countries.
There are hundreds of examples, no doubt, but Trump has made it clear: He gets off on believing he's too powerful to be held accountable to the basic moral rules of human behavior, ranging from "don't sexually assault people" to "don't lie for the hell of it" to "don't be a racist scumbag" to, just maybe, "don't betray your country for personal gain."
For someone who gets a rise out of feeling invincible, not having to face any consequences for flagrantly covering for Vladimir Putin has got to feel incredible.
Trump is likely right that his supporters will thrill to it as well. As I have detailed here at Salon and in my book, "Troll Nation," Trump's voters delight in "liberal tears" above all else. It's hard to argue that smiling upon an authoritarian leader of a hostile foreign power who used criminal actions to subvert democracy to hand the White House over to a reality TV star whose main interest is getting rich off taxpayers is not, objectively speaking, an excellent route to extracting the most delicious of liberal tears.
Trump himself has framed his Russia love in these terms, calling it "politically correct" — the favorite term of dismissal on the right — to object to the Russians violating international law by invading and annexing Crimea, which was part of another sovereign nation.
Trump is really feeling himself -- and his power to betray his own country in favor of pleasing Putin -- and for good reason. His feeling of invincibility is backed up by a Republican party that will, indeed, reject any real accountability for Trump no matter what he does. Sure, a few Republican politicians have offered mealy-mouthed expressions of disappointment that the president is openly siding with a man accused of subverting American democracy. Is there any doubt that they will turn around and reward his gloating betrayal by supporting his agenda while refusing to take any actions against him? Their party has sold the country out to American billionaires for so long that selling out to Russian oligarchs isn't really much of a leap, it appears.
Trump doesn't always flaunt his evil behavior — he is smart enough to know to play dumb or innocent when he could really get in trouble — but when he knows full well he's going to get away with it it, he enjoys a strong bout of public gloating. And he's going to get away with it as long as Republicans remain in charge, which is why he's shoving his betrayal of America in our faces. Remember: When you're a star, they let you do it.