It’s November 2013 and you’re Donald Trump. By your standards it’s a normal weekend, which means you’re sitting in the presidential suite of the Moscow Ritz Carlton fuming at Barack Obama. In part you’re fuming because you’re very racist, and in part you’re fuming because Obama publicly humiliated you more than two years ago. If you were more self-aware than a mosquito, you’d realize these were heavily intertwined sources of aggrievement.
In any case, neither the opulence all around you, nor the celebrity-welcome you’ve just received, can lighten your mood. When you learn that Russia hosted the Obamas in the same suite in 2009, your mood darkens further. You can’t let go of your anger. You must do something.
After 45 minutes of rocking hypnotically in a gaudy piece of hotel furniture, inspiration strikes. Your plan requires the participation of young women—specifically white women—but discretion dictates that you cannot solicit professional escorts yourself, so you ask a younger man in your entourage to make the request for you.
Upon their arrival, you hand each a glass of champagne, and lead them graciously to the master bedroom, where you imagine the Obamas once slept. It is very hard to settle a score with the president of the United States, but you intend to try. At your direction, one after another, everyone in the room urinates on the bed. Maybe you top it all off with a dribbling of your own. You laugh maniacally. Victory is yours.
Barack Obama has long since left the bed. He is on another continent, far away from the bed. You’re peeing on your own bed now. You’ve just paid many people to make pee pee on a Trump bed. The bed where you sleep. It is drenched in urine.
You likely recognize this scene, minus some dramatic license, as the one former British spy Christopher Steele depicted in his infamous opposition research dossierdetailing the conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to subvert the 2016 election, and the Russian government’s efforts to install a blackmail target into the U.S. presidency. You probably do not recognize it as a metaphor for the presidency Trump is actually administering. But it is both things simultaneously. The only weak point in the analogy is that, back in 2013, the rest of us hundreds of millions of Americans didn’t have to inhabit the hotel suite with him.
It is well-documented that Trump is consumed by his vendetta against Barack Obama. “It’s his only real position,” one top European diplomat told Buzzfeed earlier this year. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’”
As recently as this summer, he was amplifying random twitter accounts, retweeting anything that painted him in a better light than his predecessor, including a days-old, unscientific Twitter poll.
His single-minded obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act isn’t an impulse that stems from some deeply held right wing ideology, but from his primitive desire to brutalize Obama, the person, in the public square. He sees the steady progress he’s made rolling back Obama-era regulations and administrative action not as policy changes that will serve the public interest, or as legacy burnishing accomplishments in their own right, but as his most proximate means of needling a defenseless nemesis. Of owning Obama. Nay, of pwning him.
Perhaps Obama is highly insulted by all this pwnage. That’s the fantasy anyhow. But as in Moscow four years ago (allegedly) Trump hasn’t come around to the fact that the bed he’s befouling isn’t Obama’s anymore. It’s his. And, unfortunately, it’s ours, too.
Last week, well after insurance companies around the country had set premiums for next year’s ACA-compliant plans, Trump announced he had abruptly suspendedbillions of dollars in annual payments the ACA promises issuers to support plans poor people can afford. He also signed an executive order that, if implemented as intended, will siphon healthy people into unregulated markets, leaving the ACA exchanges overpopulated with sick beneficiaries. The combined effects of these changes will be to increase premiums, decrease overall coverage, and (because the government subsidizes these increasing premiums) to increase the budget deficit. It is a policy regime supported almost exclusively by people who believe humiliating Barack Obama and making liberals angry are the highest callings of government. The harm will disproportionately befall Trump voters; Trump is doing it against the wishes of Republican elected officials in Trump country because he thinks he’s peeing on Barack Obama’s bed, and not his own.
A similar error has driven Trump to place America on a path to global isolation and possibly to war. As a presidential candidate Trump trashed the global powers agreement to denuclearize Iran. His position was as much a function of his grudge against Obama as of his membership in the Republican Party, but it had no basis whatsoever in the merits of the deal, which he did not understand at the time, and does not understand to this day. His decision to decertify the deal last week stems entirely from the humiliation he feels every 90 days when, by law, he must attest to whether the deal is in the national interest, and whether Iran is in compliance with it. Refusing serves the dual purpose of ending the shame he feels over having to personally validate something Obama did, and of peeing in a bed he imagines Obama still slumbers in. He does not grasp that it is actually our bed, and his job is to keep the bed unsoiled.
I could tell the same story about Trump’s EPA terminating the Clean Power Plan, Trump’s own decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and even Trump’s reckless anti-diplomatic comments about North Korea. But you get the point. There is no unearthed proof that the compromising Moscow incident ever happened, but Trump’s conduct in office reflects the psychology that supposedly inspired it uncannily. It is the best reason to think the pee tape actually exists.
As long as Trump is president, America will be subject to government by pee-pee tape. He will eventually feel the splashback, but by then we will all be drenched.