The Trump White House wanted to set a breakneck pace. The idea was to overwhelm and wind the opposition by debuting new and dramatic executive orders day after day and following it up with a Supreme Court appointment. They would expand the public's idea of what was possible for an administration to accomplish quickly, give supporters a list of campaign promises kept, and put the Trumpian revolution on solid footing.
Naturally, it's been a disaster.
The strategy has left President Trump's administration gasping as much as his opponents. Take what happened on just Thursday night alone: The administration's executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations was put on hold by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A diplomatic call with China revealed that President Trump had already completely backed into the One China Policy he had criticized. New reports showed that Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn may have lied about his post-election discussions with the Russian ambassador. Oh, and it came to light that Trump had criticized the START Treaty in a phone call with Vladimir Putin even though he barely knew what the nuclear arms reduction deal was about.
No wonder the next day the press was full of reports of the White House already feeling worn out. Trump's team is said to be riven by rivalries and opportunistic power plays, while Trump himself is coming down hard on Press Secretary Sean Spicer because of a much-shared Saturday Night Live skit. A New York Times reporter quipped that it's "hard to overstate the level of misery radiating" from White House aides. The travel ban may have to be rewritten. New staff needs to be hired; an anonymous source told Politico that Trump already wants to clean house "but he knows it's too soon."
Yet the institutions that are supposed to check and contain an out-of-control executive also seem to be straining and sputtering in this new era. Trump has upset the normal partisan behaviors and balances that have obtained since at least 1994. And it's as if without these guidelines, the members of other branches of government, or the press, no longer have a feel for the norms of their own professions.
The judicial rulings that have stopped the travel ban, for instance, are slapdash and illogical, and seem to be based more on perceived popular demand than on the law or the court's duties. The 9th Circuit admitted that it took Trump's campaign statements into consideration, a legal stretch that they did not have to take to get the desired order. The ACLU improbably claimed that the travel ban violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The press corps is also on tilt, constantly falling for fake stories that would damage the Trump administration. Like the hacking of election results in swing states. Or the mass resignations at the State Department that never happened. There are enough real humiliations to go around. But with the spread of these and dozens of other fake stories across mainstream media (remember the Russians hacking the electrical grid?), the atmosphere of the media is one of competitive hysteria.
Congressional Democrats can barely figure out what their role is. They're tempted by their base to go for full obstruction and tempted by electoral results to moderate and run to the center (wherever that is). Instead of challenging Trump's appointments where they could be especially dangerous, the most effective protest was launched against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who really has no power over public schools at all.
It's possible that neither the Trump administration nor his opposition will ever find solid footing in the new era. They can lock each other into mutual overreaction. Perhaps we are only just entering an era of obvious institutional decay, misinformation overload, and exhaustion. Hang on.