The rude, petulant man-child in the Oval Office is reeling ever more wildly out of control, and those who cynically or slavishly pretend otherwise are doing a grave disservice to the nation – and to themselves.
How do you like him now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? President Donald Trump convened a made-for-television summit at the White House and said he’d sign any immigration bill Congress passes. “I'll take the heat,” he boasted. So a bipartisan group of senators came up with a deal – and he rejected it out of hand, launching into an unhinged rant about “shithole countries.”
What about you, House Speaker Paul Ryan? You came up with a clever way to get Democrats to agree to a stopgap funding bill, dangling the possibility of a long-term renewal of the vital Children’s Health Insurance Program. But the president tweeted that “CHIP should be part of a long term solution” and not a short-term measure to keep the government from shutting down.
Is this what you signed up for, chief of staff John Kelly? In a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, you said that some of Trump’s campaign positions on immigration were “uninformed” and that there will never be a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. You reportedly added that whatever partial barrier gets built, Mexico won’t pay for it. But the president slapped you down with another series of tweets., claiming that his promised wall “has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it” – and that Mexico will, too, pay for the wall, “directly or indirectly.”
How was your week, White House physician Ronny Jackson? You did what is expected of everyone who stands at the podium in the briefing room: lavish the president with flowery, over-the-top, Dear Leader praise. He is in “excellent health,” you announced. But the test results you released, according to many other doctors, indicate that Trump suffers from moderate heart disease and is on the borderline between overweight and obese. In your view, the next step down from “excellent” must be “deceased.”
Having fun, Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski? As bigwigs in the Trump campaign, you helped a manifestly unfit blowhard get elected president. This week, you did the White House a favor by stonewalling the House Intelligence Committee in a way that angered even the Republicans on the panel, which is hard to do. But you remain in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the best-case scenario is that you emerge unindicted but saddled with mountainous legal bills.
No one should feel sorry for those who choose to aid and abet this travesty of an administration. They made their choices. They elected to trust a man they know to be wholly untrustworthy, and to lie shamelessly to massage his swollen ego. At this point, I wouldn’t believe Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she told me that water is wet and the sky is blue.
But the larger impact is something we all must worry about: One year into the Trump presidency, we effectively do not have a presidency at all.
As McConnell noted in frustration Wednesday, he can’t orchestrate passage of an immigration bill unless he knows what Trump is willing to sign. Likewise, Ryan can’t pass spending legislation unless he knows what Trump will and will not accept. But the president has no fixed positions. His word is completely unreliable. How are congressional leaders supposed to do their jobs?
Regarding foreign policy, how can other nations take seriously anything Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says when he is subject to being countermanded on Twitter at any moment? What is the point of Jared Kushner’s diplomacy, if you can call it that, in the Middle East? Does “America First” really mean anything, or is it just Trumpian hot air?
And why, at this point, do reporters even bother to attend Sanders’ briefings, unless perhaps for the entertainment value? Past press secretaries all delivered pronouncements that were loaded with spin, but Sanders concocts laughable fantasies out of thin air – usually to “justify” crazy things Trump has said or tweeted.
The nation has never before faced a situation like this: It is unwise to take literally or seriously anything the president and his official spokespersons say. An administration with no credibility cannot possibly lead.
Trump is incapable of growing into the job; if anything, he is becoming more erratic. I fear the day when a crisis arises and we must face it with a bratty preteen at the helm.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.