President Trump has a superpower. With just a few taps to the screen of his iPhone, he can transform his staunchest adversaries into . . . Donald Trump.
No one loves a good conspiracy theory as much as the man in the Oval Office. Indeed, that is how he launched his political career. He was the chief propagator for a shameful lie that the nation’s first African American president was not born in this country.
He continues to gin up new ones. But in addition to using them to stir his own base, Trump has become highly effective at fomenting preposterous scenarios that send his opposition into a conspiratorial frenzy.
The latest example came over the weekend, when Trump retweeted an obvious, if lame, joke by one of his most devoted sycophants.
“After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump - no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, wrote . “I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”
Reparations — get it? Falwell was sucking up to the president, distorting the results of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Trump’s possibly illegal effort to obstruct the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and making a racially insensitive reference to redressing the abomination of slavery. It was a three-fer, in less than 240 characters.
Trump himself continued the trolling with a tweet that read: “they have stolen two years of my (our) Presidency (Collusion Delusion) that we will never be able to get back.”
Traditional and social media took the bait, as Trump surely knew they would.
Out of that tweet came a torrent of speculation about the extralegal means he might use to remain president, no matter the outcome of next year’s election.
A Rolling Stone headline pondered: “Will Democrats Have to Do More Than Defeat Trump in 2020 to Get Him Out of Office?”
No less a figure than Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe wrote, “This is as loud a warning as anyone could ask for: Trump has no intention of leaving his sinecure and exposing himself to jail time.”
But Tribe also acknowledged: “If he plans to stage his own coup, I’d count on the judiciary, the military, and, ultimately, a popular uprising to stop him. Best = landslide.”
Should Trump lose the 2020 election, he surely will howl that the results are illegitimate. Indeed, he suggested that he planned to do it in 2016 had things gone the way that pre-election polls suggested they would.
And his former fixer Michael Cohen, who went to prison on Monday, told the House Oversight Committee in late February: “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
But as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sensibly pointed out in an interview with the New York Times, our system provides a straightforward way of settling these things. It comes at the ballot box.
That is what happened in last year’s midterm elections, in decisive numbers, up and down the ballot. Our democratic process, which has survived threats far more serious than narcissistic bluster, worked as it was designed to do.
Trump has sent liberals into a panic over something that is not only a fantasy — there is no mechanism to add two years to a president’s term beyond a constitutional amendment — but a pointless distraction given that the election is still 18 months away. And all of this undermines trust in our institutions, which may be the biggest danger of all.
So I’d like to suggest trying something radical the next time Trump tweets something ridiculous: Ignore it. Don’t swing at everything he pitches over the plate.
There no doubt will be those who say that not jumping on each and every offensive thing he utters is “normalizing” Trump.
But, in fact, it would do the opposite. It would preserve a sense of proportion about Trump’s various sins, and keep a focus on the abuses of power that are actually happening right in front of us, rather than imagining fanciful ones.
Most immediate among those at the moment is Trump’s threat to prevent Mueller from testifying before Congress. Mueller must explain himself in public, and clearly answer whether Trump and his allies — including Attorney General William P. Barr — have twisted the conclusions of his 448-page report.
Here’s a theory to chew on: If the report is truly the exoneration that Trump claims it is, why doesn’t he want to let Mueller talk about it?
Trump is preparing to do something that is truly out of bounds. In other words, it is the perfect moment for him to throw up a big cloud of dust.