Donald Trump is the United States’ 45th president, a distinguished lineage that goes back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. The Houston Astros are a major league baseball team and World Series champions in 2017, a distinguished lineage of great teams that goes back to the Yankees of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and the Dodgers of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
What do Donald Trump and the Houston Astros have in common? They are both cheats.
How to count the ways that Donald Trump has cheated? It’s not just the 15,000 lies and counting that the Washington Post is tracking. It’s not just failing to make public his income tax returns or using false bone spurs to get out of military service during the Vietnam War. No, Donald Trump has a history of cheating that is easily documented by examining his real estate dealings and bankruptcy filings.
His most egregious cheating is the recent impeachment “trial.” For the first time in American history, an impeachment trial was held in the United States Senate with no new witnesses called or documentation presented. The president of the United States was tried in the Senate with no corroboration of the charges against him.
How did Trump get away with this? The answer is quite simple: the overwhelming majority of Republican senators voted not to call additional witnesses or have further documents revealed, even if up-to-date revelations such as John Bolton’s manuscript had appeared after the House of Representatives hearings. And how did President Trump convince the senators to follow his position? Why did 51 Senate Republicans go against impeachment jurisprudence and vote to have no witnesses or documents?
Donald Trump has been able to overwhelm the Republican Party. Its members may say in private that what he did in pressuring Ukraine was inappropriate or even worthy of removal from office, but publicly they are cowed by him. His approval ratings have given him the power to dictate to members of the party what he sees as his way forward. And this includes eminent academics. A distinguished emeritus professor from Harvard Law School, Alan Dershowitz, testified for Trump at the trial that whatever a president does to get re-elected is in the interest of the country. Forget the rule of law. President Trump is above the law, Dershowitz implied, and the Republican senators acquiesced. Trump boasted in 2019: “Then I have an Article II [of the Constitution] where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” echoing Richard Nixon’s claim that “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
For years to come political scientists will analyze the sources of Trump’s power as well as the implications of how he wields that power to have others cower before him. For those political scientists have been well schooled in the classic 1948 Politics Among Nations by Hans Morgenthau which lays out power and interest as the bases of realist politics. Trump is only concerned with his power and interest. And, contrary to Dershowitz’s argument, his interests do not always coincide with those of the United States.
What about the Houston Astros? They cheated during the 2017 World Series by stealing signs from the catcher to the pitcher which helped their batters. Ultimately caught by Major League Baseball’s governing body, they were dutifully punished by fines and suspensions of those responsible. The Houston club then fired those directly involved. In other words, Major League Baseball was able to establish the facts and punish those found guilty, just as it had done in the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal when players were caught throwing games in cahoots with gamblers or the case of star player and manager Pete Rose’s gambling.
America’s national pastime is better able to deal with cheating than the United States Senate is able to deal with cheating by the President of the United States. The rule of law is better enforced in national sports than in national politics.
While Donald Trump and the Houston Astros are both cheats, only the President was able to get away with it. That the two don’t have in common.