Consider Dana Milbank’s commentary in the Washington Post summing up James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey’s account of why he wrote extensive, real-time notes of his conversations with President Trump. “The nature of the person,” Comey explained in part. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”
The nature of the person.
This was the essence of Comey’s testimony: that the president of the United States is at his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man. It was judgment on character, not a legal opinion, and even Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee made no real attempt to dispel it.
By itself, it’s neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor for a president to be dishonorable. But it’s a stain on the country, and it defines this moment. This is why Trump can’t get legislation through Congress and can’t get allies to cooperate, and why so many worry that he will disregard constitutional restraints. The president is not to be trusted.
The Founders did not anticipate this, a defect not just of private misconduct (which we’ve seen before) but of public character. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”
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