When the new year begins next week, President Trump will have an acting chief of staff, an acting secretary of defense, an acting attorney general, an acting EPA administrator, no interior secretary, and no ambassador to the United Nations. The officials originally in all those positions have either been fired or have quit in various measures of disgust or scandal. His former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer have all pleaded guilty to crimes. His campaign, his transition, his foundation and his business are all under investigation. The United States’ allies are horrified at the chaos Trump has brought to our foreign policy. The stock market is experiencing wild swings as investors are gripped with fear over what might be coming and what Trump might do to make it worse — a situation alarming enough that the treasury secretary felt the need to call up the CEOs of major banks to assure them that everything is under control.
And, oh yeah, the government is shut down.
This, my friends, is exactly what we were afraid of when Trump somehow managed to get elected president two years ago. This is what we warned you about.
To give you a flavor of the president’s mind-set, here’s what happened over the weekend with regard to the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, widely regarded as the sanest of Trump’s national security team and one of the few original members of Trump’s Cabinet who did not show himself to be incompetent, corrupt, or both. The president’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria because of a single phone call with the president of Turkey was apparently the last straw for Mattis, who has watched in dismay as Trump has set about to degrade the alliances that have shaped U.S. foreign policy for the last seven decades. So Mattis tendered his resignation, saying he’d depart in two months to give the president time to find a replacement. And then . . .
President Trump, who aides said has been seething about news coverage of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s pointed resignation letter, abruptly announced Sunday that he was removing Mattis two months before his planned departure and installing Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary. . . .
Trump decided hastily to remove Mattis in reaction to negative news coverage, according to senior administration officials, one of whom said the president was eager to retaliate against Mattis and show up the widely respected former general. Another official said Trump and other advisers suspected Mattis of being part of a campaign to stoke negative coverage about the president.
Nothing says “well-oiled machine” like that distinctly Trumpian combination of paranoia and vindictiveness.
Meanwhile, the government shutdown is expected to last into the new year, a shutdown that is happening because a bunch of Fox News and talk-radio hosts criticized the president for not being tough enough in fighting for his ludicrous border wall. Trump, always deeply insecure and eager to feed his base’s endless rage and desire for conflict, responded quickly to the accusation of weakness. “He spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely,” reports the New York Times.
Two years ago, as we were still trying to wrap our heads around the idea that Trump was actually going to be president of the United States, it was not uncommon to hear the hopeful prediction that things wouldn’t work out as badly as we feared. The weighty responsibilities of the office would turn Trump serious, sober, “presidential.”
That has not occurred. If anything, Trump has shown himself to be even more of a despicable human being than he appeared then, and utterly incapable of growing into the office. He is just as petty, just as impulsive, just as narcissistic, just as dishonest and, perhaps, even more corrupt than we realized. Not only does he seem to be using every available opportunity to exploit the presidency to enrich himself and his family, but a recent, meticulously documented investigation showed that Trump, his father, and his siblings engaged in a years-long scheme to commit tax fraud on an absolutely massive scale, a story that, in the endless waves of White House madness, has been almost forgotten. And he continues to jealously guard his tax returns, to the point where any reasonable person would conclude that the information contained therein must at a minimum shock the conscience, if not providing evidence of outright criminal behavior.
It is true that Trump has not yet started World War III. And if you’re a Republican, he has done many things that pleased you, such as cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, or slashing regulations that protect workers, consumers, and people who enjoy breathing air and drinking water. If you thrill to the sight of immigrant children being ripped from the arms of their parents, then this presidency has been a joy. Indeed, just about the only fear about Trump that hasn’t come to pass is the conservative worry that he would be ideologically unreliable.
But in so many ways, he has shown himself again and again to be not just as bad as we thought, but worse. As as we look forward to the next two years, we must realize that there will be no stability, no settling down, no period of calm. The best we can hope for are brief moments when the lunacy pouring from the White House is more comical than terrifying. But most of the time, they’ll probably be both.