Former President Donald Trump exudes an aura of timelessness. That’s not to say he has an aesthetic that transcends any particular era; it’s to say if you watch Trump too closely and for too long, the man has a way of unmooring time itself.
That’s the only way I can explain the experience of watching his interview with an outlet called Real America’s Voice that aired Tuesday. It was classic Trump, showcasing his unwillingness to even consider that maybe — maybe! — he shouldn’t put his own priorities over America’s interests.
In a clip released ahead of the full interview, Trump goes on an extended, rambling riff that all but begged Russian President Vladimir Putin to release information about Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son.
“As long as Putin now is not exactly a fan of our country,” he said, the Russian leader may as well spill the tea about Hunter Biden’s business. “I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer. I’m sure he knows."
That’s how Trump has operated this whole time, smashing together fact with rumor and grudges into a slurry of ill intent and naked ambition. Rather than hide his intentions, he merely states them out loud. As I’ve noted before, his opponents often scramble for some Watergate-esque secret smoking gun, when all the evidence they need of his intentions is out in the open.
In asking Russia for help bringing down the Biden family, it obviously brings to mind the infamous moment during the 2016 campaign when, referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, he said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens.”
That’s how Trump has operated this whole time, smashing together fact with rumor and grudges into a slurry of ill intent and naked ambition.
While Trump later tried to explain the moment away as a joke, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report noted, Russia was listening. “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU [Russian military intelligence] officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office,” the report read. While Putin is a little tied up at the moment, it’s entirely possible that he would welcome a distraction from the disaster his invasion of Ukraine has become for him.
Trump’s openness to foreign assistance was on display again in 2019. In the scandal that led to his first impeachment, Trump was at the center of an operation that was meant to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into opening investigations into the Bidens and the conspiracy theory that it was really Ukrainians who hacked Clinton in 2016. Zelenskyy never opened the investigations, which Trump lamented Tuesday. And as we saw unfold afterward, while that effort failed, the intention to rig the election in his favor continued into the 2020 election cycle and beyond.
There is nothing surprising about this anymore, and that has deadened our senses to the enormity of his actions. Trump repeats the same story, told with the same beats, over and over again. Each time some outside force has threatened to change the results, Trump has walked away without any lasting consequences. His call for Russian aid in 2016 led to Clinton campaign emails being deployed on the same day the damaging “Access Hollywood” tape was made public. The Mueller report’s litany of possible crimes became “no collusion.” His call with Zelenskyy ended with his acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial. He was reportedly appealing for help overturning the 2020 election as recently as September.
Trump is a character that lacks development — and because he is inert, there is nothing against which to judge the passage of time.
This all highlights the most disconcerting of Trump’s core attributes: his imperviousness to growth. He is effectively a man frozen in time, harboring an entirely unfounded conviction that he is still operating at the same level he was at in his prime. This resistance to any sort of reflection manifests as an unshakeable stubbornness and jaw-dropping brazenness to the delight of his supporters and regret of his advisers. Trump does not change, not truly; he only finds new grievances to add to his already straining collection.
Trump is a character that lacks development — and because he is inert, there is nothing against which to judge the passage of time. In this way, every scandal resembles the last scandal, until it can feel like watching the same moments play out all at once forever, as Doctor Manhattan perceives reality in the graphic novel “Watchmen." Even in the White House, it was only the chaos around him that shifted, not the man himself. There was never the moment that he truly became president. And through it all, he only briefly pretended to have ever been chastised or willing to shift his tone or demeanor. He is as immutable as a collapsed star, drawing everything around him into his orbit, eventually frozen with him at the edge of the event horizon.