by Ben Cohen
I've been struggling lately to muster the energy to keep covering the monstrous insanity unfolding in the White House, mostly because I don't know how to articulate the sheer absurdity of it any more. Of course this has to be done -- the public has to know as much as possible about what is happening to their country, and they need responsible media outlets to (at least try to) articulate what it all means.
Last week represented a new low in presidential politics and saw Donald Trump plumb the depths of incompetence and idiocy like never before. Here was Andrew Sullivan's description of a truly shocking week that must, on at least some level, he argues, represent a turning point (bold emphasis mine):
Compare it with any other week in modern political history. Day after day, the president has publicly savaged his own attorney general for doing the only thing possible with an investigation into a political campaign he was a key part of: recusing himself. And the point of the president’s fulminations was that the recusal prevented Sessions from obstructing that very investigation. The president, in other words, has been openly attacking his own attorney general for not subverting the rule of law.
He is also complaining that Sessions is not investigating his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, even though an extensive FBI investigation has already taken place and no charges were deemed sufficient for prosecution and even though the president himself said, after the election, that he would oppose such an investigation. What special kind of madness is this?
Then we were subjected to the spectacle of the president going to the Boy Scout jamboree, of all places, and delivering a series of partisan jabs, campaign-rally catcalls, and completely inappropriate personal ramblings to a crowd of thousands of boys. The speech was, in some ways, a metaphor for everything Trump is and has done. He took a regular, civil, apolitical American gathering of mainly children and turned it into diatribe of deranged and nakedly partisan narcissism. He is actively despoiling our civic culture.
And then, in what can only be analogized to a royal proclamation, Trump tweeted out a sudden change in military policy. Asked to back defunding the specific medical care for transgender service members, he declared instead — via social media — that all transgender troops are now barred from serving “in any capacity.” He did not inform the Defense secretary in advance; and he did not issue a directive through the proper channels. He revealed in a flash a sociopathic indifference to the lives of thousands of patriots currently serving their country and contempt for the regular rules and procedures of the military he supposedly commands.
What special kind of madness indeed.
The New York Times was equally as scathing about Trump's disastrous week, arguing that the president would have a near impossible time repairing the enormous damage he has done -- much of that internally. From a historical perspective, Trump is in toxic territory and has little chance of turning things around:
Presidential historians found it hard to recall precedents for the combination of internal warfare and external legislative troubles. Jeffrey A. Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, said the best examples were John Tyler and Andrew Johnson in the 19th century. Both men were serving as vice president when their bosses died in office, each during a time of great turmoil in his political party.
“In either case, we are forced to go well back over a century in the past to find an administration in such an open state of infighting coupled with legislative disarray,” he said.
Presidents can recover from a difficult first six months, as Bill Clinton did, Mr. Engel said. “But certainly, like both Tyler and Andrew Johnson, we see today a president at war with his own party, and that to my mind never turns out well,” he said.
Given Trump's spectacular lack of legislative achievements thus far (the failed repeal of Obamacare being perhaps the greatest symbol of his inability to lead), it is hard to see how his party can continue covering for him. With disaster after disaster after disaster, one has to wonder how much damage the GOP is willing to endure to keep its grip on power intact. Because the longer term prospects for their party are nothing short of horrendous. Deep in the belly of the GOP, the more realist strategists and thinkers must have calculated that this cannot go on. They know that at some point, Trump is going to go, and the longer he stays in power, the deeper the structural damage gets. Appeasing him to beat back the Democrats is only a short term strategy, and it is unclear what the party plans to do in his absence. The party's short termism is its greatest liability, and the panic must be setting in as they come to realize there is no real plan for a future without Trump.
We are, I believe, seeing the beginnings of a revolt against Trump. John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski defied their party to vote against the latest attempts to dismantle Obamacare. Jeff Sessions is getting broad support from Republicans critical of Trump's continued attacks on him, and Congress just passed sweeping sanctions against Russia, despite Trump's disapproval. As the LA Times reported, some of the biggest pushback came after Trump announced his ban on transgendered troops:
Some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have pushed back at Trump’s surprise announcement on Twitter of a ban on transgender people in the military. The critics, including McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and an array of conservative senators, objected both to the substance of the ban — which threatened the status of thousands of active-duty service members — and to the way in which it was unveiled.
Individually, these acts of defiance are not particularly overwhelming, but they add up and are an important development in the trajectory of this presidency. Trump's incompetency and idiocy cannot be contained unless his authority is undermined -- and that is exactly what we are seeing. The less control he has, the more buffoonish he appears. If tinpot dictators can lose their authority in the blink of an eye, so can Donald Trump.
This special kind of madness is spreading through American civil society like wildfire, but there are helpers fighting back ferociously. There will be a tipping point in the not too distant future, because all it takes only one clear voice to remind the public that the emperor has no clothes. While we haven't heard it yet, that day grows closer by the minute.