I subscribe to a novel but not-so-outlandish theory that President Donald Trump acts with an idiot’s innocence when he does the dangerous, anti-democratic things he does. He has lived his entire life making up facts to gain advantage, promoting himself and his businesses with aggressive bravado and false boasts. His life has been centered on cutting deals and cutting corners while working on the assumption that you’d better screw the other guy before he screws you.

When Trump says he did nothing wrong by soliciting the aid of foreign powers to cook up dirt about his political rival, he may have no conception of how wrong that is. When he obstructs justice by refusing to cooperate in the slightest way with congressional inquiries and special prosecutors, he may be incapable of understanding that is a bad thing to do. And when he habitually abuses the powers of his office and insists he has every right to do so, he seems to believe that is how every other president has operated. He is blissfully ignorant of tradition, history, constitutional principles, the rule of law and the absolute need to limit the power of any president to avoid a slide into arbitrary, self-aggrandizing, one-man rule.

From the opening days of his presidency, Trump has exhibited discomfort with democratically-elected leaders while displaying a fawning affinity for ruthless autocrats, particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seems that in Trump’s conception of the world, Putin’s way is the best way to run a business or a country. The current impeachment process in the House of Representatives is an effort to check Trump’s authoritarian impulses. If it does not result in his removal from office (and it is hard to imagine it will), voters will be left to provide that check next November.

If they do not, then inauguration day 2021 could be the start of a frightening slide toward an America that will be very different from the republic we have known.

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