Some are born catastrophic, some achieve catastrophe, and some have catastrophe thrust upon them.
So far President Trump falls only in the first two of those three buckets. For that, my fellow Americans, we should all be very, very grateful.
Gratitude may not feel terribly warranted right now. Over the past four long months, we have endured scandal after scandal, crisis after crisis, from this White House.
To wit: a national security adviser who was a foreign agent for an authoritarian country and who put the kibosh on a military action that that authoritarian country opposed; the sharing of highly classified intelligence with the Russian government; multiple administration and campaign officials who “forgot” to mention earlier meetings and other contacts with Russian officials; attacks on the independence of the federal judiciary; multiple indications (including comments from Trump himself, on camera) that suggest potential obstruction of justice; and so on.
Frankly, it’s exhausting.
But here’s the bright side. These have all been all self-inflicted wounds. Perhaps mortal ones, for the Trump presidency, but self-inflicted nonetheless.
Our saving grace — as a country and, perhaps, as a planet — is that so far the United States has not experienced any major external shocks. Woe betide us when the Trump administration is tasked, as it inevitably will be, with handling a crisis not of its own making.
As first 120 or so days go, the conditions thrown at this administration have been relatively calm.
A decade out from the financial crisis, the U.S. economy is in decent shape. Unemployment and inflation are low; gross domestic product growth is not fast but is nonetheless steady. Having disappointed for years, wage growth is on the rebound.
The global economy, too, is healing, and foreign political parties have awakened to the risks of populism and anti-globalist, autarkical sentiment. Let’s not overstate the case: Wars still rage, dictators rule, and human rights abuses abound. But economically and geopolitically, things could be worse.
In fact, the United States, which long considered itself a beacon of political stability, is today the world’s wild card. In a reflection of both relative quiet elsewhere and unusual cacophony here, the Economist Intelligence Unit released a report Thursday saying that Trump (“an unpredictable, thin-skinned and impulsive leader”) is driving the highest level of political risk the world has seen in years.
Now let’s try a thought experiment.
Imagine what life would be like if this turbulent administration had not sailed in on economic tail winds. Imagine, say, if this assemblage of dubious talents had instead faced conditions akin to those George W. Bush’s administration faced in the early days of 2001.
Even before 9/11, the Bush administration faced a battery of challenges. Among the economic ones were the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the start of a recession. Could you picture the Trump administration having the wherewithal to deliver a calming, coherent message to frightened markets and consumers — to project the image that it knows what it’s doing?
Or worse, imagine if we now faced some of the economic conditions President Barack Obama’s administration confronted in its early days.
That is, suppose the country teetered on the precipice of another Great Depression, with banks foreclosing on homes by the millions, markets panicking and hundreds of thousands losing their jobs each month. It would be the administration’s task to pull us back from the brink and to broker an enormous stimulus package (a “pump-priming,” one might say) that delivered a big bang for the buck.
Could the Trump administration do it?
The Obama and Bush administrations hardly handled their respective crises flawlessly. In fact, the country is still cleaning up some of their messes. And that was with a roster of people with many years of experience and subject-matter expertise working the problems to the best of their abilities.
The Trump administration can’t even be bothered to nominate anyone for some of the most senior posts at Treasury, Homeland Security, State, the Federal Reserve — to name just a few of the places where you’d want seasoned people, or perhaps any people at all, should a crisis or recession sneak up on us.
Unfortunately, just because we’ve been lucky enough to avoid a non-Trump-created crisis so far does not mean we’ll be so lucky indefinitely. On some level, the White House must know this. One would hope that the experience dousing Trump-lighted fires would motivate it to shape up so it was ready when less foreseeable, more serious fires broke out.
Instead, the administration seems more chaotic, and the president more hysterical, than ever.
Feeling grateful yet?