Can Americans learn from the Trump catastrophe?

Can Americans learn from the Trump catastrophe?
© Getty Images

Hopefully, we Americans can learn some lessons from the Trump national catastrophe. We all have to assume some responsibility. Life is about choices, and the nation selected Trump in 2016, despite plenty of evidence that he was completely unfit for the job. Voters overlooked Trump’s behavior, his self-obsession, and his record of incompetence. Tens of millions overlooked his pandering to racism and the darkest, most hateful elements of American society. Disgruntled Americans bought into Trump’s lies, his conspiracies and personal rage and did so often without doubt.

Trump created an alternate universe to suit his self-serving reality — enough to convince millions of Americans that he was a suitable figure to lead the nation. They were wrong.

Trump surrounded himself with a wacky set of marginal and often unqualified sychophants as well as self-interested politicians who compromised themselves in fear of Trump’s zealot supporters and in support of their own shameless ambition and agendas. Aside from Trump, is there a more pathetic political figure in this country than Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Ted Cruz says critical race theory is as racist as 'Klansmen in white sheets' Pentagon pulling 'certain forces and capabilities,' including air defenses, from Middle East MORE (R-Texas)? Insulted and belittled by Trump from the beginning, Cruz became a shameless devotee to the end. Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyGOP divided over bills targeting tech giants Pence heckled with calls of 'traitor' at conservative conference Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE (R-Mo.), young and shamelessly ambitious, aspired to be president and joined the Trumpster club.


A surprising number of Trump zealots in the end were graduates of some of the most prominent Ivy League schools. These institutions might be great at educating smart young people, but they might take a look at screening out mindless ambition and measuring for personal integrity in the future if their reputation is to be preserved.

Here are some early lessons of the Trump disaster —

  • We all must recognize the potentially fragile nature of our democracy and the enormous power of the president. It was too close for comfort, but in the end, American institutions of democratic governance held — the intrusive media exposed abuses, professionals in the government spoke up, the courts protected the elections and the law, and an opposition political party won the election. Ensuring the independence of these institutions from political interference must be protected in the future.
  • All future American elections must be strengthened and conducted in a secure, consistent, fully transparent, professional manner to insure public confidence in the process.
  • As a matter of urgency, the nation must resolve once and for all that the president is not above the law and can ultimately be prosecuted for illegal acts. Trump should be held legally accountable for his decisions — and that should be validated by the Supreme Court.
  • Many of the customs and practices that limit the power of the president should be placed into law after careful consideration.
  • Americans must have confidence in legitimate and professional sources of information for truth. Regulation and standards for social media should be required if citizens are to make judgments in an atmosphere of facts.
  • Character matters in a leader. Trump’s lack of personal integrity and character were well known — but largely ignored — when he ran for president in 2016. We cannot expect our leaders to be saints, but a leader without a basic level of personal accountability for his or her behavior and who lacks integrity should be unacceptable as a national leader.

No doubt there are more lessons to learn from the Trump experience.

Trump has marginalized — if not shattered — the Republican Party, failed to lead the nation during a deadly pandemic, and undermined both U.S. national security and some of the most fundamental elements of U.S. Democracy. The enemies of America must be ecstatic.

When Trump spoke of “American carnage” in his inauguration address in January 2017, little did we know that he was speaking of his own presidency, but it should be no surprise to anyone who has watched his presidency to see that this fundamentally weak, insecure and incompetent man set the fire that destroyed his own political future.


Any honorable person would immediately resign after humiliating the nation by inciting his faithful followers to launch a violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people.

Trump should resign, depart Washington and turn governance over to the Vice President until the new president is sworn in on January 20. Trump needs to let the nation move on to a better future.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."