Donald Trump thinks he’s winning.
For months, Americans have grown accustomed to Trump in his cornered-rat mode, lashing out defensively and ruminating obsessively over the possibility of impeachment. But his tweets this week have been surprisingly cheerful, suffused with the buoyant spirits of a teenage bully who has successfully swirlied a nerd.
First, like an overexcited child on Christmas Eve who unwraps his presents too soon, Trump — overcome with the pleasures of racist sadism — tweeted on Monday night that “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens.”
This move, according to the Washington Post’s reporting, appears to have aggravated ICE officials, who said “they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter” and who don’t have the capacity to deport “millions.” But Trump was clearly too overcome with joy at the prospect of children crying as their parents are torn away from them to avoid bleating about it on the internet.
The gleeful sadism of Trump’s Twitter feed continued a few hours later, when the always highly caffeinated president wrote, at 1:10 a.m. on Tuesday, “Only a few people showed up for the so-called Impeachment rallies over the weekend.”
“The numbers were anemic, no spirit, no hope,” he added, with a supervillain note of triumph at the way the forces of darkness are sapping the will of the the good people of Gotham.
We’ve grown so accustomed to Trump feeling beleaguered and cranky that it’s genuinely surprising to see him feeling as chipper as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore praising the smell of napalm in the morning. Unfortunately, there’s only one reason Trump could be in such a good mood: He thinks he’s winning.
It has to be an odd feeling. As has been widely reported, Trump’s poll numbers are low, showing that all of the top five candidates for the Democratic nomination would likely beat him if the election were held today. Trump’s internal polling showed him falling so far behind in battleground states that he fired the pollsters rather than accept the reality.
He’s also coming off yet another round of media coverage after he admitted, on camera to George Stephanopoulos, that he’d be delighted to cheat in the 2020 election, like he did in the 2016 election, by embracing and encouraging a Russian criminal conspiracy. It was seemingly enough of a media misfire that he felt the need to try to walk it back a day later on Fox News. (Not that anyone is buying the walk-back.)
And yet … Trump is happy. He thinks he’s winning. And frankly, despite all that stuff I just mentioned, he has good reason to feel that way.
As painful as this is to note, Trump is right that the impeachment rallies attracted poor turnout. That’s not due to a lack of public support for an impeachment inquiry. More than half of Americans support at least an impeachment investigation, which is much higher than support for impeaching Richard Nixon was before the Watergate hearings began. Instead, as Trump correctly diagnosed, the low turnout was because liberals and progressives feel demoralized, since it seems the House Democratic leadership is determined to do nothing substantive to expose Trump’s extensive corruption and likely criminal behavior.
After Trump admitted on camera that he’s open and eager to keep doing crimes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained as firm as ever on her refusal to start an impeachment inquiry. If Trump telling us that he plans to commit more crimes won’t move the needle, then showing up in a plaza with a witty-but-angry slogan on a placard won’t do it, either. So of course the only people who showed up are the insufferable hippies who actually enjoy protests.
Trump realizes that he can do whatever he wants and that no one is going to stop him. That is clearly his greatest pleasure in life, one that even outstrips buying the silence of porn stars whom he pressured into underwhelming sex.
Half the reason Trump does bad things is because he gets off on getting away with it, as demonstrated by the the innumerable contractors he’s screwed over and wives he’s cheated on. He even told voters as much during the campaign, when he infamously bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Trump’s “speculative” admission to Stephanopoulos that he intends to commit election fraud in 2020 wasn’t a slip of the tongue, as evidenced by his insistence on redoing shots he didn’t like, as if a news interview were a scripted TV show. Instead, Trump was testing Pelosi, like the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” testing the fences. Her reaction — which is to do nothing — lets Trump know there are basically no limits. There’s nothing he can do, no crime so big that he can admit to doing, or say he might do again, that will actually propel Democrats to start an impeachment inquiry.
It’s no wonder, then, that Trump is feeling himself. He realizes that accountability for his abundant misdeeds isn’t coming and he’s free to do what he wants, with no real danger of facing the consequences. Trump has slowly become more emboldened over the past couple of years, but now he’s coming into the realization that the election of 2018 was not the threat to his power he clearly thought and feared it was. Now there’s real reason to worry he’ll conclude the same about the prospect of losing the 2020 election.
What happens when a man who has no moral compass realizes he can do whatever he wants without consequence?
Democrats still have a chance to stop this. Starting an impeachment inquiry and taking stronger measures to arrest witnesses who are refusing subpoenas would go a long way towards wiping the gloating smirk off our president’s face. It might also make him think twice about escalating his attacks on American democracy. But for some reason, Democratic leaders seems more interested in complaining that no one cares about their go-nowhere health care bills than in taking the fight to Donald Trump, so that he’s a little less sure he can get away with his endless career of crime.