A common reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency has been a sense that reality has outstripped even the most feverish fiction. The only thing to do when the world has come to feel like the implausible output of a genre-hopping television show is to cover it that way. Welcome to our recaps of “The Trump Show.”
It’s going to be truly wild if, after everything the series has done over the past season and a half, this year of “The Trump Show” ends up being a story about Donald Trump — heretofore a feckless, reckless, belligerent dilettante of a president — bringing peace to the Korean peninsula and winning a much-deserved Nobel Peace Prize along with Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in. I am not a betting woman under any circumstances, and recapping “The Trump Show” has been an extremely useful lesson in expecting the unexpected. But given the events of this week’s episode, it sure seemed like “The Trump Show” was setting up a reversal that would provide its most striking moral mind-melt yet.
The episode’s biggest reveal was the news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is also facing a tough confirmation fight to become the next Secretary of State, had secretly traveled to North Korea to lay the groundwork for an in-person meeting between Trump and Kim. It’s unfortunate that the series didn’t give us a flashback depicting the meeting, which I sorely wish to see on-screen. But if the summit does actually take place, the logistical considerations — Kim may not have a plane capable of flying him to many of the obvious potential locations without stopping to refuel, thus producing a loss of face — the personalities involved and their personal aesthetics all mean that we’ll be getting one heck of a spectacle, whatever the outcome.
Of course, if the outcome is that Trump, Kim and Moon manage to negotiate an actual end to the Korean War (which currently is still in a state of armistice) and a decision by North Korea to verifiably give up its nuclear weapons, it will be not merely an astonishing accomplishment, but the occasion for a major reassessment. We’ll have to decide, as viewers, whether we think there was not merely method, but an affirmative geopolitical value to Trump’s seeming madness. We’ll need to consider whether what we understand to be dignified statesmanship is effective, or merely aesthetically pleasing. (Moon’s involvement here is less flashy, but it ought to matter a great deal in our conclusions.) And if Trump succeeds, we’ll have to decide how that weighs against his multitude of sins and offenses as we judge his character.
These are quite a few ifs, of course. Trump has already declared his willingness to walk away from talks if he feels like they’re not going well, saying “I always like remaining flexible.” (That sentence is in intriguing tension with the rigidity of his personal habits and his temperament, which might better be described as eccentric rather than “flexible.”)
In the meantime, a certain amount of chaos persists. Lest we get too befuddled by the prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough, this episode brought us the spectacle of Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, making one statement about the country’s policy towards Russia, being contradicted by the president, and then being forced to explain as politely as she could that she wasn’t confused, it’s just that things are crazy. Haley is the sort of character you might expect to pop up on an episode of “Scandal,” a Republican with a sharp sense of style, an intriguing backstory and a way with a snappy comeback. Here on “The Trump Show,” she’s just another competent figure at constant risk of being sucked into the vortex.
Such is true not merely with Trump’s factotums, but with his enemies. As the continued James B. Comey plot line made clear this week, Trump has a unique power to transform even those who seek to stand against him. The release of the former FBI director’s memoir was one of the major stories this week, and it sent Trump into a continuing frenzy, but it also revealed that battling Trump has brought out both Comey’s poorly-concealed inner prig and his more-surprising catty streak. In neither case was this exposure to more of Comey’s personality particularly beneficial to his reputation. The only solution, it seems, is for characters to adopt the silent, shark-like relentlessness of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose influence on the show is in direct inverse proportion to the number of actual lines he speaks on it.
We’ll see if that holds true thanks to a last-minute development in the episode. Karen McDougal, who alleges she had an affair with Donald Trump, managed to extricate herself from a contract with American Media Inc., which bought her story and then buried it. Nothing anyone has said about Trump has been able to derail him or fundamentally change his experience of the world, at least not yet. But this is “The Trump Show.” Anything can happen.