Friday, January 19, 2018

A year of living very dangerously

“Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic — a vision of strength through inclusion and equality that makes our country special and exceptional.”
                                                                 — Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

SOMETHING about anniversaries. For all the attention we pay to a certain milestone on a Certain Date, the mood and tone and tenor of the thing itself are usually established well in advance. An anniversary is a train, or a train wreck, you can see coming from a long way off.

Well, we’re just shy of the official one-year anniversary of the Donald Trump White House experiment, and it doesn’t get much worse for him than this. With a handful of events in a short period of time, it’s been possible to grasp the gravity of the disaster unfolding, for the Trump White House, a sadly fractionalized Republican Party, and a deeply wounded nation. A snapshot of some events over the last week distills how we’ve gotten to where we are over the last year:

On Monday, Jan. 8, Trump walked onto the field of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the NCAA championship football game in Atlanta was played. Trump faced a withering blast of jeers and curses from people in the stadium. The Daily Beast reported that “protesters projected the message ‘Fuck Trump’ on the front of the stadium. Trump’s appearance at the game — where he took the field to sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’— also triggered scorn from Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who appeared to yell ‘Fuck Trump’ ahead of the high-stakes game against Georgia.”

“The president stuck around long enough to sing along to part of the national anthem, though footage showed him apparently singing the wrong words,” The Beast reported.

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On Tuesday, Jan. 9, discussing with reporters the possibility of a presidential run by Oprah Winfrey in 2020, the braggadcious chief executive said he’d beat her in a head-to-head matchup. “Yeah, I’ll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun,” he said.

Then, employing some novel linguistic gymnastics, Trump added: “You know, I did one of her last shows. She had Donald Trump—this was before politics—her last week. And she had Donald Trump and my family. It was very nice,” Trump said, not explaining, or probably even noticing, how he spoke of himself in the first person (“I did one of her last shows”) before switching to the second third person (“Donald Trump”) before switching back to the first person (“my family”).

On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would not seek reelection in 2018. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, Royce’s fellow southern Californian, Rep. Darrell Issa, former once-feared chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced his retirement, after nine terms. “I am forever grateful to the people of San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties for their support and affording me the honor of serving them all these years,” he said in a statement. Issa’s retirement makes him the 31st Republican to bail on seeking re-election in 2018.

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ALSO WEDNESDAY, a new Quinnipiac Poll had nothing but bad news for Trump. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said Trump is not level-headed, and only 28 percent said he is, according to the poll. Sixty-five percent of Republicans said he is level-headed, 32 percent would beg to differ. Some 93 percent of Democrats said he’s not level-headed, which pretty much dovetails with long-held expectations.

Most people, 57 percent, said Trump is not “fit to serve as president.” The current occupant of the White House now lays claim to “the lowest approval ratings of any modern president at this point in his presidency, despite a thriving economy and record stock market numbers,” the poll reports.
Grading Trump's first year in office, 39 percent of voters responding to the poll give him an “F,” while 17 percent give him a “D.” Trump got an “A” from 16 percent of voters, a “B” from another 16 percent and a “C” from 11 percent.

Of course as of Thursday afternoon, Jan. 11, all letter grades for the presidency* of Donald Trump went sideways. That was when, in a candid immigration-related meeting with aides and others in the Oval Office, Trump said the following, in an angry, brief but corrosive hypothetical heard ‘round the world: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said in reference to people from Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries. Jaws have been dropping internationally ever since.

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If you’re looking for one way to distill the last year at the White House, a year of living very dangerously at the highest level, any of these events should suffice. Michael Gerson at The Washington Post recently tried to put the immigration debate under Trump into perspective: “Trump’s ping-ponging from dealmaking to feuding, from elation to fury, has come to define the contentious immigration talks between the White House and Congress, perplexing members of both parties as they navigate the president’s vulgarities, his combativeness and his willingness to suddenly change his position.”

Those things have come to define more than that. They define an administration that can’t think straight, one at cross-purposes with reality, one that seems to lurch from decision to decision with little consistency or relationship with what’s been promised in the past.

Another classic example: The United States' signing of the nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran, something Trump (doing the full transactional) called a terrible deal for the United States during the 2016 campaign. Fast forward to Thursday, Jan. 11, and the news that Trump had rolled over, waiving sanctions and extending for a third time the same nuclear deal with Iran that he bitterly opposed, foaming at the mouth, on the campaign trail.

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TRUMP INSISTS he won’t do this again absent some permanent way to keep nukes out of Tehran’s hands. But despite the ostensibly high-minded rationale and the threats of what’s next, you can’t get away from the first-blush perception: Trump the campaign-trail blowhard reluctantly faces his comeuppance at the hands of geopolitical reality — and saving face remains of paramount importance.

Gerson, writing Jan. 15th, in The Post, framed the Trumpian cult of personality in the context of those sad loyalists who drank the Kool-Aid: “The perfunctory criticisms, self-indicting silences, half-hearted defenses and obvious lies provided by most elected Republicans have been embarrassing and discrediting. Loyalty to Trump now consists of defending the indefensible. His advocates are becoming desensitized to moral corruption. They are losing the ability to believe in anything, even in their own courage.”

Welcome to the freshman presidential legacy of Donald Trump. This is the story of House Trump’s Year Zero.

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On Saturday, we mark the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, a benchmark of our government, our history and our culture that people on either side of a great national divide will greet with celebration or (most of us) with a deep, abiding dread.

Some of these Americans will be there in the gallery of the House of Representatives on Jan. 30, 10 days from now, when Trump makes his first State of the Union address.

Many more of these Americans will be in the streets across the United States in the morning, about 10 hours from now, as the 2018 Women’s March steps off in numerous U.S. cities and towns.

A year ago the Women’s March was naturally about anticipating what would likely be coming — what Draconian cuts in services, what preposterous advances in rationale for sexist rhetoric and policy — under House Trump. Today, a year later ... now we know.

We know we have elected to the presidency a man we do not know, and entrusted him with the care and well-being of people he does not care for, people whose wounds and frailties disgust him, people whose life stories amuse him, people whose fears and doubts are finally, for him, of no consequence whatsoever.

Image credits: Trump: © 2018 Getty Images. Issa: ABC News. Quinnipiac University logo: ©2018 Quinnipiac Uniersity. S**t for Brains front page: © 2018 New York Daily News. Washingtgon Post nameplate: © 2018 The Washington Post Company. Trump inauguration: Pool feed.

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