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President Trump Has Cheapened the Dignity of His Office

A woman holds up her cell phone before a rally with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in Bedford, New Hampshire, September 29, 2016.

It hasn’t even been a full month yet, but many of us who pay close attention to Washington feel like the Trump administration has aged us a full decade. Every day begins with a fearful peek at President Donald Trump’s latest insomniac posting on Twitter.

Who is he attacking today? A fashion retailer? Or the all-knowing purveyors of “fake news?” Perhaps a beloved civil rights leader and member of Congress? In a way, starting the day with Trump’s tweets is like reading the comics before the front-page news.

As tempting as it might seem, however, the president’s online hijinks are no laughing matter. It’s serious business when the leader of the free world expresses pique and ire daily in 140 characters or less.

As he did during the presidential campaign, Trump has continued to attack any one or any institution that dares to disagree with him. The list is long but notably includes the news media; congressional leaders; federal judges; national intelligence officials; and, on occasion, celebrities and private citizens.

For all Americans, regardless of partisanship or political ideology, President Trump’s irreverent missives should be of grave concern because they cheapen the dignity of the office, turning important matters of state into an extra-long episode of “The Apprentice.” Whether by design or accident, the president’s comments and behavior undermine the nation’s democratic ideals and foster a creeping sense of nihilism about the institutions that serve public interests.

For people of color, this is downright dangerous because of our specific and historic reliance on these all-important instruments of democracy to leverage our position in society—from suffering as chattel slaves to living freely as citizens. Indeed, were it not for earlier efforts to perfect our union, the previous occupant of the White House might never have been elected once, let alone twice, and trusted to exercise the political authority that Trump seems intent on abusing.

To be clear, the subjects that Trump tweets about are serious matters. For example, when he argues repeatedly that voter fraud denied him the popular vote, he raises unfounded doubt in the minds of some poorly informed citizens about the legitimacy of the U.S. electoral process. What’s more, such doubt opens the door to discriminating against people who may look, think, or act in ways that contradict the president’s imperious self-delusions.

As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz recently noted, President Trump’s tweets on voter fraud pose an existential danger to the nation:

Trump is chipping away at a shared public confidence in a system that is fundamental to a representative government for no apparent reason other than that he’s bothered by the fact that, although duly elected and now in the White House, he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes.

Consider, too, Trump’s outrageous tweets attacking federal judges. In startlingly personal words, Trump dismissed U.S. District Judge James Robart, a highly regarded jurist, for ruling against an executive order that denied most refugees and some Muslim immigrants entry into the nation. Given the role that the federal judiciary has played in guaranteeing equal rights and protections for people of color—including school desegregation, fair housing, and a host of other civil rights cases—any attack on the independence of the judiciary is an attack on equal rights for disadvantaged people.

And as an erstwhile newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, perhaps I’m most sensitive to Trump’s bitter diatribes aimed at the news media. His easily disproved claims about the size of crowds at his inauguration served only as a warm-up act to his arguments that “low-life leakers” were enabling media efforts to undermine his administration.

By turning people away from credible news sources, Trump seeks to convince his supporters that any information not provided by his Twitter account is “fake news.” The theatrical quality of his efforts to manipulate his media image is on full display whenever he’s before reporters and their cameras. Recently, he’s taken to only calling on friendly, conservative reporters at press conferences, apparently knowing they will toss up softball questions.

The net effect of all this is to create an image that appeals to a slice of the American public. David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times noted recently that Trump “has retained a strong hold on his core supporters, whose loyalty remains ardent.”

But the nation that he leads is much larger than that. And the overwhelming majority of Americans know that this emperor is naked and afraid, posting the lowest approval rating of any president recently sworn into office.

In this light, the bluster of Trump’s daily tweets may mask his grasp of the Oval Office. His tweets seem to be of more of a personal nature, a primal scream for public embrace of his personality, if not his policies. But a president’s job is more than settling scores with real and imagined enemies, and certainly such disputes shouldn’t be settled on the backs of our civic officials and organizations. Indeed, it’s never a good sign when Americans—especially those who have endured a legacy of discrimination—lose faith in the institutions that are linked to our shared fate and uplift in the nation.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.