“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
King James Version of the Bible. Book of Proverbs, 16:18
President Trump was ecstatic. Standing before a crowd of in the East Room of the White House, he held aloft a copy of the Washington Post. “Trump acquitted” the headline declared in bold letters. For about an hour, Trump celebrated and embraced the applauding crowd of administration officials and supporters.
“Now we have that gorgeous word,” said a triumphant Trump. “I never thought a word would sound so good. It’s called: total acquittal.”
Probably overreach and misfortune.
If history is any guide, the president and his sycophantic hangers-on will want to run a victory lap.
The first sign of that has already emerged, dismissal of some of those Trump believes have undermined him and his cause.
These moves were presaged by Eric Ueland, the White House’s legislative affairs director, who said to a group of Capitol Hill reporters, “I can’t wait for the revenge.”
The first targets were Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the House impeachment hearings, and his brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, Both were bounced from the National Security Council and Trump appeared to suggest that the Army should discipline Alexander. Then Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was fired after refusing to resign.
Trump also rescinded his nomination of Jessie Liu, former U.S. Attorney for D.C., who presided over the case against former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, and criticized D.C. District Judge Amy Berman, whom Liu worked with. Stone was convicted in November 2018 on seven counts of obstructing and lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Another likely Trump move will be taking new and excessive risks, with Trump and his most devoted followers sucked into delusions that they are on a roll and are now invincible.
As the writer P. G. Wodehouse put it. “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”
The behavior of previous presidents is instructive.
For Lyndon B. Johnson, the lead piping that confronted his hubris was the Vietnam war.
After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Johnson used his political cunning to push a historic civil-rights bill and a massive Great Society program through Congress. Then he trounced Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, carrying 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
He was on a roll, confident of public support as he simultaneously poured money into the Great Society and ramped up the America’s military commitment in Vietnam. Then the anti-war protests began, small at first, mostly on college campuses, then massive, furious and country-wide.
Eventually worn down and dispirited, the once ebullient Johnson announced soberly on March 31,1968 that he would not seek a second full term.
For Ted Kennedy, it was hubris that led to Chappaquiddick.
On July 17, 1969, he saw himself as a rising star, primed to carry forward the legacy of his brothers, Robert Kennedy, gunned down a year earlier, and President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963.
Then everything changed. On the night of July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy left a party and recklessly drove an Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.
Ten hours later, and only after consulting with his advisors, Kennedy reported the accident to police, To the disgust of many who thought him guilty of much more, he managed to escape with only a two-month suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident.
But the fatal accident left a stain that couldn’t be erased.
“(The) accident that killed Mary Jo was the end of the Kennedy moment, when the dreams of Camelot and the deferred hopes of martyrdom went skidding off the road and disappeared into the abyss,” wrote Peter Canellos, editor-at-large of Politico.
Richard Nixon experienced a fall from grace after reaching the mountaintop, too.
After narrowly losing the presidential race to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon waged a successful campaign against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968 in a close election.
On November 7, 1972, Nixon reached the peak of his success when he ran against Sen. George McGovern and won in an electoral landslide. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
Just 21 months later, on August 8, 1974, Nixon went from the heights to the depths, becoming the first U.S. president to resign his office.
Behind his downfall was a paranoid White House more than willing to bend the rules. At one point that included burglarizing the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in an effort to uncover evidence to discredit Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers.
Then there was Watergate. In a 1973 Fortune analysis, Associate Managing Editor Max Ways described the Watergate affair as a failure of management.
“These footless ventures would remain forever incomprehensible unless we turned to the beliefs and emotional patterns of the participants.,” Ways wrote. “Their attitudes were shaped in part by the general ambience that enveloped the White House and the Committee to Re-elect the President, and that ambience included a lot of fear, suspicion, and hostility. Although the word “paranoia,” used by many people, is too strong, it is correct to say that a high level of self-pity influenced the style of the Nixon White House.
The seeds of this attitude were sown long before Watergate. Self-pity was evident, though excusable, in many of Nixon’s periods of adversity, and it had not melted away in the warm sun of ambition fulfilled.”
George W. Bush and his close advisors were also overly confident that the country was behind them and would hang tough after Bush responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with aggressive military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“In considering war on Iraq,” Newsweek said, “the sibling of danger was opportunity…The thinking went that if the United States could change the regime in Baghdad, it might create a new model of democracy in the Middle East. After all, democracy was on the rise globally …”
In concert with that thinking, Newsweek cited a belief in the prowess of the high-tech United States military and its ability to ensure that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be “decisive, quick, easy, and low-cost.”
Why will Trump fall from grace after his impeachment victory? History and his character foretell it.
In his book “Truman,” David McCullough said it was Truman’s character that defined the man.
“He stood for common sense, common decency,” McCullough wrote. “He spoke the common tongue. As much as any president since Lincoln, he brought to the highest office the language and values of the common American people. He held to the old guidelines: work hard, do your best, speak the truth, assume no airs, trust in God, have no fear.”
This is about as far as you can get from a description of President Donald Trump.