“I’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as President,” Donald Trump told the graduating class of the Coast Guard Academy, in New London, Connecticut, on Wednesday, a day when, with talk of impeachable offenses in the air, it became reasonable to wonder if his entire time as President might be very short. Multiple congressional committees were on their way to subpoenaing any documentation that James Comey, who was the director of the F.B.I. until last week, had written regarding his meetings with the President. According to a Times report, the notes memorialized Trump saying, with regard to the F.B.I.’s investigation of the former national-security adviser Michael Flynn and his dealings with Russia, “I hope you let this go.” Comey didn’t; Trump fired him. The Times story was published on Tuesday evening. By the time that Trump got on the stage in New London, more than one congressional committee was going after what was quickly becoming known as the Comey memo. Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and the chair of the House Oversight Committee, was busy scheduling hearings, with Comey as a witness, for next week. And, as much as the President regaled the graduates with tales of his victories—he has “saved the Second Amendment” and appointed a Supreme Court Justice “who’s going to be fantastic for forty-five years,” and the construction of his border wall is “going along very, very well”—what came across most clearly were his borderless delusions.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” Trump said, with a broad shrug. “Especially by the media. No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly.” After that splendidly ahistorical reminder of how fine the line is between self-aggrandizement and self-pity, Trump continued, “You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.” At that, there was a smattering of applause, which Trump sucked in as if he were a mylar balloon in need of a hit of helium. “I guess that’s why we won,” he said.
Trump may indeed believe that he won because people like seeing him ignore anyone who tells him “No.” He urged the graduates to “fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.” If, however, the fight comes in the form of spurned subpoenas, Trump may be surprised at how it works out. (On Wednesday evening, the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation into possible Russian involvement in the Presidential election.) Or maybe not. So far, the President has had, if anything, a shortage of naysayers, particularly in his own party. And the complicity of the G.O.P. leadership continues: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered a soft cry for less drama, but that hardly counts as a bulwark against Trumpian overreach.
Trump doesn’t seem to understand that Presidential power is limited not because boring people want to crush his dreams but because there are political and Constitutional norms. Nor does he seem to grasp that democratic accountability functions at every level of the government. In speaking to the newly commissioned Coast Guard graduates, he compared their situation to that of other college graduates, who have to wonder what they are doing with their lives. “In the Coast Guard, you will face many challenges and many threats, but one thing you will never have to face is that question of ‘What will I do?’ “ Trump said. Perhaps they will be so lucky, but “what will I do” in, say, the case of an unlawful order, or a situation in which civilians or civil rights are at risk, is surely a question that every member of the military needs to be prepared to face. You never know, after all, what kind of Commander-in-Chief will manage to get elected.
The graduates did get a reminder of the principles underlying their calling, from retired General John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who also has a role overseeing the Coast Guard. Other service-academy graduates, in other countries, he told them, would be taking an oath of loyalty to “a sovereign.” The Coast Guard Academy graduates took an oath to defend the Constitution—“a piece of paper.” It is a common enough observation, but, given the reports that Trump asked Comey to make a personal avowal of loyalty to him, it was also a timely one. As Kelly spoke, Trump sat stiffly on the stage, his expression fixed, perking up only when Kelly mentioned George Washington and God.
Another late President got a mention, too. While Trump was listing his accomplishments, he told the graduates about “how much we’re about to save you on the Gerald Ford, the aircraft carrier.” This was an apparently proud follow-up to a comment that Trump made last week, the oddness of which has been somewhat overlooked in the Comey shuffle. Speaking to Time, Trump had described touring the U.S.S. Gerald Ford, which will be the first of a new class of aircraft carriers, and inspecting its system for catapulting planes into the air. “It sounded bad to me,” Trump said. “Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. . . . And now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said what system are you going to be—‘Sir, we’re staying with digital.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. You going to goddamned steam.’ “ According to subsequent reports, the Navy is staying with “digital.” Perhaps, at the commencement ceremony, Trump was still fighting the naysayers against God-damned steam. Or maybe the Ford was on his mind because of the way that its namesake became President in the first place. Before you know it, it might be time to place bids on the catapult system for the U.S.S. Mike Pence.