The taming of the Trump
He is contained and ineffectual ... for now
You can practically hear the sighs of relief in Washington — and all across the country and world. Donald Trump has been president for several months, and Western civilization hasn't been reduced to ashes yet.
The left largely believes that Trump has so far proved to be a paper tiger, a wannabe tyrant with no apparent aptitude for tyranny. Reactionary Mind author Corey Robin, for instance, writes: "When it comes to advancing the singular potency of the presidency — whether that means controlling public opinion, consolidating the power of the executive branch, or dominating Congress — Trump has been an abject failure. Whatever fantasies he (or the media or his critics) may have about the presidency abound, the last 100 days have shown that Trump has no realistic agenda for, or steady interest in, consolidating power."
On the right, there is recognition that the Republican agenda has unaccountably stalled, but nonetheless Trump is a "dream president" for evangelicals (according to Jerry Falwell Jr.), he's still strongly supported by the Republican base, and no matter what else happens, they'll have Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court for a generation.
The bipartisan foreign policy establishment, meanwhile, may be pestered by President Trump's Twitter excretions, but they soothe themselves with the mantra that "he's surrounding himself with an outstanding national security team."
It's human nature to want to move on from trauma and return to a state of normality; we were collectively tired of talking about Trump long before he was elected. (I'm guilty of this feeling myself!) But make no mistake, the country is still being traumatized, daily, by the president's erraticism, ignorance, and intrinsic cruelty. "He just seemed to go crazy today," a senior GOP aide told Politico's Josh Dawsey, after a series of interviews in which Trump displayed in sharp relief his thin grasp of both current events and American history.
To put it bluntly, the most powerful organization in world history is being run at the moment by a mentally deficient 70-year-old man with no demonstrable ability to perform an excruciatingly difficult job (a fact to which the president has unwittingly all but attested).
This is by any reasonable measure an emergency situation. And yet here we are, still standing, going about our business, shrugging off the president's verbal vacuities, watching the stock market rise and the economy hum along at its grudgingly paced but perceptibly forward-moving direction. Here we are, as Christopher Hitchens said of Noam Chomsky after 9/11, eager to return to whatever our hobbyhorse was before this "rude interruption" (whether it's health care or immigration or free speech on college campuses).
This, too, is understandable; issues of vital importance remain so independently of whoever happens to be president. But the relief many feel at Trump's presidency not having resulted in catastrophe — yet — is premature.
The containment of Trump has been a hard-fought prize. It has been measured by extraordinary public protests from the day he was inaugurated right up to this past weekend's demonstration in favor of action on climate change. It is the result of, let's face it, a highly unusual level of partisan engagement on the part of satirists on network television. And it has been the result, too, of a hyper-vigilant mainstream media that places enormous daily pressure on the administration, exposing a multitude of financial conflicts of interest, inconsistencies, and straight-up lies from the president and his underlings.
When Trump complains that the "fake" media is making his life hard, he is not wrong.
But their work is necessary, and justified. And so far, it's succeeding.
The Trump presidency is a grievous error. It's a wildfire of stupidity and corruption, the spread of which it's our task daily to control. If it requires the politicization of late-night comedy, so be it. If it invites accusations of elitism from the throne-sniffing ventriloquists of the working class, so be it. If it means we suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, so be it.
Normality will not return until Trump is no longer president and those who abetted his rise to power, and helped sustain it, are punished at the ballot box.