The appalling truth about the Trump administration can be found in something the late Maya Angelou once said to Oprah Winfrey: “My dear, when people show you who they are, why don’t you believe them? Why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are?”
The chaos and dysfunction we have seen since Jan. 20 constitute, I fear, the new normal. Anyone holding out hope for some magical transition from lunacy into sanity will surely be disappointed. President Donald Trump has shown the nation who he is.
There are leading Republicans, people whose integrity I respect, who have been telling me since the inauguration that the administration is on the cusp of settling down and that Trump is starting to appreciate the solemnity of his new role. One such person who is in regular contact with the president told me the administration had “finally hit the reset button” – just days before Trump rashly fired FBI Director James Comey in an act compared to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” Trump’s honorable well-wishers are in denial.
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Other supporters, including most Republican members of Congress, are being dangerously cynical. With majorities in both chambers, they hope to use Trump to enact a far-right agenda of huge tax cuts for the wealthy, massive reductions in government aid for the poor and across-the-board deregulation. To get what they want, they are willing to pretend the emperor is wearing clothes.
Imagine the reaction had President Barack Obama fired Comey while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton. Articles of impeachment would have been drawn up within hours.
For Democrats and others who opposed Trump’s candidacy, there is no solace to be taken in the Trump campaign promises that sounded vaguely progressive. In early rallies, he flirted with the idea of universal medical care, which eventually morphed into a pledge of health insurance “for everybody.” But he threw his full support behind the House attempt to snatch insurance away from at least 24 million people and cut Medicaid by some $800 billion. His budget director recently mused that diabetics are to blame for their own pre-existing condition.
The most significant single accomplishment of the administration – putting Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court – is not anything progressives are likely to celebrate. And Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is trying to reverse the progress the Obama administration made on ending mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses.
Meanwhile, Trump promised an “America First” foreign policy of nonintervention. But he ordered a military strike in Syria, drawing us deeper into that bloody conflict, and has decided to send more troops to Afghanistan. Rather than emphasize human rights, he has had warm words of support for autocrats and strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin smolders on.
There is no silver lining that I can discern. There is no realistic hope of sudden salvation.
Thinking some transgression or another will eventually prove to be a tipping point for Republicans is logical but not realistic. The see-no-evil GOP response to the Comey firing is instructive. Trump said during the campaign that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose popular support. For House Republicans to impeach him, presumably there would have to be multiple victims.
There are those who entertain the fantasy that Trump will get bored or frustrated and eventually resign. But he’s already bored and frustrated with the drudgery of governing, and he has developed coping mechanisms – he stages campaign-style rallies, chews out his hapless staff, vents on Twitter. When he invited House members to the White House to celebrate that awful health care bill, he interrupted his speech to say, “Hey, I’m president! Can you believe it, right?” He’s not going to voluntarily give that up.
If news reports are correct, he is mulling a substantial shakeup of his White House staff. But no communications team is going to look good while having to defend the crazy, indefensible things Trump regularly says. No chief of staff can institute orderly processes if Trump is going to ignore them and fly by the seat of his pants. Trump is used to running things a certain way. He’s not going to change.
We are where we are. Democrats need to flip one or both houses of Congress next year to slow this runaway train. It won’t stop itself.
Eugene Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.