Amid the shock and horror accompanying yet another mass shooting of schoolchildren in Florida, an anonymous White House official exhibited the sheer moral squalor of Trumpism.
"For everyone, [the massacre] was a distraction or a reprieve," the official said. "A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled."
Getting pummeled, that is, about White House aide Rob Porter's keeping his job for almost a year after FBI investigators warned that wife-beating made him vulnerable to blackmail, thus a security risk. Chief of Staff John Kelly getting caught in yet another barefaced lie didn't help.
Seventeen dead students and teachers. "A reprieve," the man said. (Although there are certainly women in this White House capable of saying that.)
Let's try a little thought exercise. Let's pretend that Donald J. Trump himself needed to be vetted for a security clearance by the FBI. Any chance he'd pass muster?
Let's put aside Trump's suspect entanglement with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin for a moment. What investigators look for in deciding if somebody can be trusted with top-secret intelligence is evidence of bad character and/or significant vulnerabilities.
Trump's half-dozen bankruptcies alone might disqualify him. Settling a $25 million fraud lawsuit, as the president did in the Trump University case, would also ruin his chances -- not to mention a long list of business partners, contractors and customers who'd say he refused to pay legitimate debts, violated contracts or simply walked away. He's been sued literally thousands of times.
Three wives could be an issue, along with a well-publicized history of multiple adulteries. First wife Ivana filed a divorce petition alleging assault and rape, although it was later withdrawn. The list of women publicly accusing Trump of sexual assault has reached 20. Paying hush money to porn stars and Playboy playmates demonstrates vulnerability to blackmail -- an immediate disqualifier.
Never mind Russia; the tabloid newspaper National Inquirer appears to have Trump in its pocket.
So no, on moral grounds alone, Donald J. Trump would never be entrusted with the nation's secrets.
Furthermore, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, what are the odds that the Russians DON'T have compromising video of Trump cavorting with Moscow prostitutes? He's made a show of being too worldly-wise to jump into such a trap, but what if a "top oligarch" told him the women were a gift from Putin?
Flattery gets you everywhere with Trump. Everybody knows that.
Something has to explain his obsequious fawning over Putin besides Trump's dictator envy. (Pardon indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort? In Moscow, he'd take an "accidental" fall from a hotel balcony. In America, Manafort's more apt to cop a plea.)
Anyway, it's always sex or money.
Alas, the United States has no vetting process for political leaders. None of the above facts about the man's character is in serious dispute, although listing them is certain to infuriate some of this column's more excitable email correspondents. ("Boris" and "Natasha," Russian trolls I unmasked during the 2016 campaign, provoked scatological insults that might have shocked me if I hadn't grown up in New Jersey.)
So, there he is: the president of the United States, a certifiable lowlife who couldn't pass muster as a White House security guard. If Trump had any sense, he'd resign the presidency in the wake of Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russians for conspiring to disrupt the 2016 election -- possibly saving the Republican Party and sparing himself and the country the melodramatic confrontation that looms ahead.
Truthfully, the man should never have run in the first place. Indeed, Trump appears to have envisioned the presidency as the ultimate reality-TV show, mistaking the national news media for the celebrity tabloids he so easily manipulated back when he'd brag about his sexual conquests with radio host Howard Stern and telephone gossip columnists raving about the wild immorality of Russian women.
Confronting an independent news media and the limitations of the U.S. Constitution, however, has driven Trump clear around the bend. In a bizarre series of tweets over the weekend, the president claimed he'd never described Russian interference in the 2016 election as a "hoax" -- although everybody but the most far-gone adepts of the Trump personality cult remembers him doing so countless times. He also called the investigation a "witch hunt."
Furthermore, here's the thing: Mueller's Russian indictments are clearly predicate to more damning evidence: hacked Democratic emails, WikiLeaks and Donald Jr.'s already-documented dalliance with Russian operatives. Heavy shoes appear sure to drop.
Even Trump himself must know it. That's why he's in such a panic.
That said, Democrats would be wise to lay off the 9/11 and Pearl Harbor analogies. Let the evidence speak for itself.
Maybe they're laughing their asses off in Moscow, but when they start laughing in Keokuk, Iowa, and Moscow, Idaho, you'll know it's over.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.)