Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
On Donald Trump's 71st birthday on Wednesday, he received a special gift: a news report that he was under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice. The Washington Post reports that after a year of FBI inquiry into whether Mr. Trump's associates co-ordinated with the Kremlin, Mr. Trump himself was now the subject of a special council probe for possibly obstructing the investigation by firing FBI director James Comey in May.
Mr. Trump was not thrilled. "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history," he tweeted, to the amusement and alarm of historians, "led by some very bad and conflicted people!"
In the covfefe era, it can be difficult to decipher Mr. Trump's tweets, but it is possible that by "conflicted" he means "having a conflict of interest," not having personal misgivings about pursuing a federal inquiry into corruption. Mr. Mueller and his team have shown no such hesitations: After all, a solid indicator that an investigation is needed is that Mr. Trump seemingly proclaimed on national television he had committed obstruction of justice.
"When I decided to just do it [fire Mr. Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," Mr. Trump casually explained to NBC's Lester Holt, a few days after he allegedly told Russian officials that Mr. Comey was canned for being a "nut job" and that he was happy the "pressure because of Russia" was now gone.
Given Mr. Trump's admissions, coming up with an argument about why investigating him is wrong is challenging, but that hasn't stopped his team from trying. Hours after the Post article was published, leaked GOP talking points painted Mr. Mueller and his team as biased interlopers on an "illegal" agenda "to undermine the President."
The bullet-pointed arguments were extensive, suggesting they may have been written in advance of the news, rather like when newspapers write pre-emptive obituaries for ailing celebrities.
But does this mean Mr. Trump's reign is reaching its end? Not so fast. It is possible that the President will fire Mr. Mueller, much as he fired Mr. Comey, even though this will be perceived as further admission of guilt and possibly open up yet another obstruction of justice investigation.
Pundits who speculate that the optics of this decision will hold Mr. Trump back are still mired in the presumption that the President respects democratic norms and rule of law, which he does not. The optics Mr. Trump favours are those of an autocrat: blatant demonstrations of power that proclaim, "We know that you know what we did, and there's nothing you can do about it."
In other words, Mr. Trump does not care if firing Mr. Mueller makes him look guilty, as long as he continues to get away with his crimes. Last week, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions made it clear he will protect Mr. Trump at any cost, claiming blanket ignorance of the Russian interference case (in which he's implicated to the point of recusal) and reducing Mr. Comey's firing to the need for "a fresh start." One can easily envision Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions deciding that Mr. Mueller needs a fresh start as well.
Mr. Trump's GOP lackeys soon began denigrating Mr. Mueller. Campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich was particularly dramatic, describing Mr. Mueller as the "tip of the deep-state spear." Such baseless allegations of Mr. Mueller's motives will likely increase as the investigation continues.
The ascendancy of Mr. Trump has been an ongoing reminder that laws are only as good as the people who uphold them. Their strength relies on an official's good faith, devotion to public service and healthy sense of shame. These qualities are lacking in Donald Trump and his backers, who dress up their power grab as a persecution, presenting themselves as victims of a conspiracy even as they boast of their own crimes.
In his 1974 resignation speech, President Richard Nixon advised, "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself." In his moment of disgrace, he reflected on his failings, knowing brutal honesty was necessary if the nation were to heal.
That will never happen with President Trump. He will never admit to destroying himself; he will destroy everything else in his path first to avoid recrimination. That shamelessness, that blatant disregard for either norms or laws, spells dark times ahead.