Trump is own worst enemy

WASHINGTON — President Trump may believe his current worst enemies are all those protesters who spilled into the streets against him. But his own outsized ego and abysmal contempt for anyone trying to get in his way are doing much more damage to him.

His huge self-assurance enables him to lie profusely about easily verifiable facts, from inflating his inaugural crowds to exaggerating crime in America.

And it is matched by the audacity of his assaults on the integrity of federal judges holding him to the constitutional limits of his executive-branch power.

A traditional chief executive, challenged by the judicial branch over that power, might be expected to respectfully await its legal judgment. Instead, Trump has gone on the attack in very personal terms. If new terrorism strikes America, he says, the federal judge who has questioned his ban on refugees and certain other Muslims will bear the blame.

It’s as if Trump is incapable of grasping that the political system that has governed the American democracy for 230 years can possibly take precedence over his inflated sense of his own importance.

Bizarrely, this political novice and outsider, who managed to stand last year’s presidential campaign on its head using bluster, insult and serial lying on a wide range of factual matters, seems now convinced that nothing or nobody can outsmart him.

For all his protestations of patriotism, love of country and its ordinary people, Trump has seized its great powers in ways that reveal a remarkable contempt for the basic laws by which the nation has survived and thrived since its founding.

In a recent speech to police officers and sheriffs, in which he praised them as the epitome of law enforcement at home, he voiced disdain for the judicial arbiters of the law. “I don’t ever want to call a court biased,” he said of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewing his latest immigration action, “so I won’t call it biased. But the court seems to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able read a statement and do what’s right.”

He went on, referring to the telephone presentation of the rival positions in the case just aired via the Internet: “I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on televison that was disgraceful. I think it’s sad. I think it’s a sad day. I think our security is at risk today.”

But startlingly on Wednesday, Federal Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s newly nominated choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, told Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut that Trump’s attacks on the judge in the immigration case were “disheartening” and “demoralizing” to sitting justices.

Gorsuch’s remarks to Blumenthal in private were confirmed by a White House aide privy to the conversation, setting off speculation as to Gorsuch’s motivation. Was he seeking to convince liberal senators of his independence from Trump to enhance his confirmation? Or was he just showing solidarity with his judicial brothers and sisters?

Whatever it was, the episode seemed a rare example of a federal arbiter of the law allowing himself to take issue with the nation’s chief executive who had just handed him a ticket to the highest judicial bench in the land. Would Trump uncharacteristically just roll with the punch, or would he characteristically counterpunch?

Twitter customers waited breathlessly for the answer, and didn’t have long to wait. The next morning Trump, instead of addressing Gorsuch’s critical remarks of him, attacked Blumenthal, tweeting that the senator “never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?”

In 2010, according to Politico, when Blumenthal was campaigning for his Senate seat, he had said that as a Marine Reserve officer he had served “in” the Vietnam War when he later said he should have said “during” the war, since he had never served overseas.

Thus does the President of the United States dodge one verbal bullet from Judge Gorsuch by firing another at the senator involved. It’s more of the schoolyard stuff now coming from the bullyboy in the Oval Office.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.