It’s one of the central contradictions of the Trump regime.
With his reckless and ridiculous tweets and statements, Donald Trump is diminishing the presidency – its moral stature, its integrity, its standing around the world. One of the first tasks for our next president will be to restore those standards.
Yet Trump is also expanding the power of the office by going around Congress and the courts, issuing one executive order after another and reversing actions by Barack Obama on civil rights, the environment, financial regulations, immigration and so much more. Trump seems obsessed with wiping out Obama’s legacy, even joking, sort of, about overturning last Thanksgiving’s pardons of turkeys Tater and Tot.
Viewing what Trump does on these two levels is a good way to make sense of this White House – and to not get distracted by the daily circus. Monday, the outrage was Trump again referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as “Pocahontas.” The White House denied it was a racial slur, or an insult to Native Americans.
We also just saw this play out when Trump poured fuel on his stupid Twitter feud with LaVar Ball – the self-promoting basketball dad whose ego may be even more inflated than Trump’s – and it dominated coverage on cable news.
At the same time, Trump’s new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission unveiled plans to undo Obama’s net neutrality rules. Critics say consumers – including sports fans intrigued by the Trump-Ball spat – will end up paying more for the highest-quality and fastest internet services.
There’s a reason why Politico’s feature called “5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking” is so on point.
While Trump’s setbacks on major legislation in Congress – health care and, maybe soon, tax cuts – get a lot of attention, he is quietly changing policy and regulations through his cabinet secretaries and other appointees. At the moment, he’s in a court battle to put his own director in charge so he can remake the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the few reforms after the Wall Street meltdown to help working Americans.
And while Trump railed against Obama’s executive orders during the campaign, he has issued nearly twice as many so far and is on the second fastest pace of any president in the last 50 years, behind only Dwight Eisenhower.
Trump has also been stymied by the federal courts, notably on his anti-Muslim travel ban, so he has lashed out against judges who have opposed him, including those who sit on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.
His latest power move is in the federal judiciary. Trump is busily nominating judges – including some who are clearly not qualified – to fill more than 100 vacancies. He has so many because Senate Republicans blocked many of Obama’s nominees. Now, GOP leaders are seeking to smooth confirmation for Trump’s picks by ending the 100-year tradition of “blue slips” that allow home-state senators to block controversial nominees.
Even worse, some conservatives are pushing a court-packing scheme to add at least 260 more judgeships. If this happens, Trump would be able to name half of all federal judges, who have lifetime appointments, by the end of 2018.
So far, Trump has only used his sweeping power to pardon people convicted of crimes in one contentious case – Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who racially profiled Latinos and immigrants. But more pardons could be on the way if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation produces indictments in the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.
On that subject and others, Trump has lowered the standards we expect from our president on truth, transparency and even hypocrisy.
In Trump world, it’s no longer hypocritical to criticize a political enemy even if you’re accused of the same wrongdoing. It’s only hypocritical if you’ve admitted that behavior.
This is exactly what has happened in the mushrooming sexual harassment scandal. Trump criticizes Democratic Sen. Al Franken and defends Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore without acknowledging all the women who have accused him, or the “Access Hollywood” tape on which he brags about assaulting women. Unbelievably, Trump is now reportedly claiming the tape is a fake, even though he admitted last year it was real.
Still, Trump hasn’t stopped the change sweeping through society where sexual misconduct by influential men is being uncovered and where women feel more empowered to speak out. Instead, it’s partly a backlash to his misogyny.
There are some things, thank goodness, even beyond Trump’s control.