"Idiot" and "incompetent" were the two words that came to mind most when a pollster asked Americans to describe President Trump.
There's a better word to describe Trump's relevant personality flaws: incontinent.
Incontinence is the inability to hold in that which one ought to hold in. It is the tendency to spill forth, thoughtlessly, accidentally, what and when one doesn't intend.
Trump's verbal incontinence has caused mockery and mirth among his enemies, and distress in those among us who wish him well in the White House. His irrelevant, self-aggrandizing asides when he speaks make us cringe and ask, "can he not control himself?" His angry tweets, attacking reporters, punching down, rehashing old grievances — including, bizarrely, an election he won — make us wish someone would take away his phone.
From time to time, Trump earns media and Republican praise for delivering a coherent, purposeful message. This is when Trump reads from the script provided him. But most of the time, Trump goes off script. He can't help himself.
That is what happened last week in the Oval Office, according to current reporting, led by the Washington Post: Trump apparently passed along intelligence, obtained from Israel, to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. Trump reportedly revealed the city from which we learned of an ISIS plot involving laptops on planes.
The Left's conspiracy theorists want this to be a deliberate sabotage by a president compromised by Russia. Trump's defenders have issued shifting denials of the Post report, currently settling on the two-pronged defense that (a) Trump had every right to disclose that information, and (b) Trump disclosed the information deliberately, as anti-terrorism collaboration with Russia.
The first defense is irrelevant and, frankly, embarrassing. The president has the legal authority to nuke France tomorrow, to pardon the Charleston church shooter or the Boston Marathon bomber, or to run a hedge fund while president. All of these would be gravely improper.
The second defense, that this was part of a considered plan to share information, is frankly not believable. From everything we know about Trump—through his years as a media-craving developer, his stint as a gameshow host, his long record as a Twitter provocateur, his presidential campaign and his first hundred days—the most likely story is that Trump blurted out the classified information. Was he bragging about the intelligence he gets? Did he figure in the spur in the moment that this was good intelligence collaboration? Did he "figure" anything?
Trump's incontinence, not some underhanded intent, is the most likely explanation for this disclosure. And that's upsetting.
Blurting out classified information can compromise our intelligence sources, maybe getting them killed. Passing along a foreign partner's intelligence can make them less likely to share with us—it could cause all of our allies to cut us off from anything they don't want Trump blabbing to Russia, or Turkey, or China. Trump's incontinence could trigger a crisis of authority as top U.S. intelligence officials will be tempted to withhold sensitive information from the president. And that is not a recipe for a functional administration.
It's a similar story with Trump's reported request that the FBI drop its investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. That's not Trump's place. And considering his evident ability to fire Comey, it would an abuse of power. But Trump, if the story is correct, had an opinion and just couldn't keep it to himself.
Wisdom often consists in knowing what not to say — holding it in. Trump seems to lack even a drop of this virtue. This is dangerous. His incontinence imperils U.S. intelligence, thus helping ISIS carry out its plots. It soils the rule of law and threatens the independence of law enforcement.
Fear of Trump's vices and their real consequences is why many conservatives couldn't bring ourselves to vote for Trump. It wasn't merely that we didn't want to associate with him; it was that we were unsure whether he really was the lesser of two evils.
An incontinent man with his finger on the nuclear trigger, access to all the most classified information, authority over the entire executive branch including its armed, law-enforcement arms — that's a scary thought. And Trump this week has given us more reasons to be afraid.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.