- President Trump, in a raucous press conference, again blamed "both sides" for deadly violence in Charlottesville
- He attacked business leaders who quit a White House panel over Trump's message on the weekend incident
- Trump combines indifference to conventional notions of morality or propriety with disbelief that others would be motivated by them
The more President Donald Trump reveals his character, the more he isolates himself from the American mainstream.
In a raucous press conference this afternoon, the president again blamed "both sides" for deadly violence in Charlottesville. He equated "Unite the Right" protesters — a collection including white supremacists, neo-Nazis and ex-KKK leader David Duke — with protesters who showed up to counter them.
Earlier he targeted business leaders — specifically, executives from Merck, Under Armour, Intel, and the Alliance for American Manufacturing — who had quit a White House advisory panel over Trump's message. In a tweet, the president called them "grandstanders."
That brought two related conclusions into focus. The president does not share the instinctive moral revulsion most Americans feel toward white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And he feels contempt for those — like the executives — who are motivated to express that revulsion at his expense.
No belief in others' morality
Trump has displayed this character trait repeatedly. It combines indifference to conventional notions of morality or propriety with disbelief that others would be motivated by them.
He dismissed suggestions that it was inappropriate for his son and campaign manager to have met with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. "Most people would have taken the meeting," he said. "Politics isn't the nicest business."
He fired James Comey after the then-FBI director, while investigating interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia, declined to pledge personal loyalty to him. "Justice has a blindfold on," Comey explained to the Senate in sworn testimony.
Trump then applied the same epithet to the former investigator that he used Tuesday on the business executives who are leaving his advisory panel: "a grandstander." He called it "extremely unfair" that Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation after the attorney general concluded that the law required him to do so.
Power matters, and morality doesn't
As president, Trump has emphasized power over morality. Seeking passage of health-care legislation — which violated his explicit campaign promises — Trump chided a reluctant GOP senator with a veiled threat.
"He wants to remain a senator, doesn't he?" Trump said of Nevada Republican Dean Heller. After the GOP effort failed, the president ripped Senate leader Mitch McConnell as someone who "couldn't get it done."
He showed similar disregard for moral or ethical considerations during the campaign.
After the "Access Hollywood" tape emerged in which Trump boasted that stardom allowed him to sexually assault women, House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed to no longer defend him. Trump denounced Ryan as "weak."
When Pope Francis called emphasizing walls over bridge-building "not Christian," Trump ascribed it to political manipulation. The pope, he said, was a "pawn" of Mexico.
Trump touted duplicity in business as a leadership credential, boasting that he once took advantage of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in a real estate deal. "I screwed him," he said. "That's what we should be doing."
Though Trump cast that talent as an asset for the nation, a Fortune magazine review of his business career found this first principle: "He always comes first."
'You can't buy courage and decency'
The president's fellow Republicans learned that to their chagrin in 2016, and reached common conclusions about his character.
"A con man," said. Sen. Marco Rubio. "Utterly amoral," said Sen. Ted Cruz.
"Dishonesty is Trump's hallmark," declared Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee. "He's playing the American people for suckers."
Increasing numbers of Americans have reached that conclusion. In a Quinnipiac University poll this month, 62 percent called the president not honest, up from 52 percent last November.
Moreover, 63 percent said Trump does not share their values. That undercuts his ability to lead average Americans, lawmakers, business executives or foreign leaders toward common goals.
"In a president, character is everything," Republican commentator Peggy Noonan has written. "You can't buy courage and decency. You can't rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him."
Trump has brought other values, as Tuesday's news conference again made clear.
One reporter asked about Sen. John McCain's call that he more strongly defend National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster against the same extreme-right fringe that marched in Charlottesville.
"You mean Sen. McCain who voted against us" on health care? he shot back.
Another journalist asked whether Trump placed white supremacists and their counterprotesters "on the same moral plane."
"I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane," the president said.