Can we agree never to underestimate President Trump again?
Call it instinct, call it a well-hidden Machiavellianism, call it whatever you like. Blame it on Stephen Bannon, blame it on the weather. But the man, for all practical intents and purposes, has formidable political skills. And they manifest in one particular way: Donald Trump drives people insane. I mean truly bonkers. He has the almost supernatural capacity to get people to act and react in ways that are entirely irrational.
This is not a new phenomenon. Why do you think the tabloids covered Trump? Why did do you think banks lent him any money?
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But it has been particularly evident since he announce his intent to run for president. Republican politicians essentially soiled themselves, first declining to attack him, and then attacking him in ways that seemed calculated to boost his appeal. Then Hillary Clinton did more or less the same thing.
Since Trump got elected, his maddening ability to drive people bonkers has only gotten worse. People are losing their minds every day. I would only be marginally surprised if hallways in the White House featured people hugging themselves in a fetal position on the floor, laughing maniacally, while other people step over them on their way to a meeting with an empty chair, and everybody acting like this was perfectly normal. The media is just as hysterical.
Take the latest Trumpocalypse non-event: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired after refusing to defend Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees. Her rationale for doing so, as expressed in a carefully worded letter, was that she wasn't sure the order was "wise or just." She may be correct in her analysis, but it is not her job to ascertain whether the order is wise or just, and nobody elected her to do so. Attorneys general — and acting attorneys general, and deputy attorneys general, and acting deputy attorneys general — should refuse to defend or carry out orders that are illegal, not orders deemed by them "unwise" or "unjust." And those who decide that it's their job to decide what orders are wise or just should be fired. Yates did not call the order illegal, because she knows very well that it is not.
And of course, Yates is being hailed as a hero — by the same people who thought conscientious objection was a right-wing conspiracy when it involved delivering same-sex marriage licenses. More to the point, by the same people who are now clutching their pearls and being apoplectic about Trump's desecration of Republican norms. Do they not see that by treating Yates as a hero, they are endorsing a destruction of norms as dangerous as any contemplated by Trump, i.e. a blank check to civil servants to essentially sabotage lawfully elected leaders when they don't like them? (Do they also not see that Yates' self-aggrandizing outburst essentially strengthens the hand of Trump consiglieres like Stephen Bannon?)
Trump is driving us insane. He drove Yates insane. He drove the progressive movement insane. He drove the media insane. Conservatives, too, are showing worrying symptoms. Congressional Republicans are essentially selling out bit by bit everything they have said they believed in for 20 years, in the increasingly implausible hope that Trump will sign a few bills they like.
Trump is so disorienting and so outrageous that he causes us to be in permanent fight-or-flight mode. We are like lab rats in a cage, driven utterly mad because the lone button in our cage delivers cheese one minute, and electric shocks the next, with no discernable pattern. The media are torn between their warring quests for clicks and ideological vindication. The left and the right are both projecting whatever their subconscious bubbles up onto Trump and reacting to that. A lot has been written about Obama Derangement Syndrome, and Bush Derangement Syndrome, and Clinton Derangement Syndrome. But they largely just affected partisans of the other party. Trump Derangement Syndrome affects us all.
And here's the point: This is what Trump wants. This is how he wins.
Preserve your sanity. Think of everything that matters outside politics. Think before tweeting. Double-check after reading, and before writing. Breathe.
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