We are living in the Great Disinhibition. When the nation’s leader cannot or will not restrain his words and impulses, it becomes contagious. Norms disintegrate. The unsayable is said. Two former presidents—including a fellow Republican—just broke a long-standing taboo by publicly denouncing the sitting president as a threat to American ideals. (See Talking Points.) Republican Sen. Bob Corker this week warned that President Trump would be remembered for the “debasing of our nation”; another Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, condemned the president’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” and his “flagrant disregard for truth and decency.” (See Main Stories.) For the first time ever, a president has exchanged accusations and insults with the family of a U.S. soldier killed in action. Every week seems angrier, uglier, and more astonishing than the one before.
From the start, the Trump presidency was an experiment. Could a real estate developer and TV showman with no knowledge of politics and government grow into the most difficult job in the world? Surely the campaigner who urged supporters to punch protesters, taunted “Little Marco,” and called Ted Cruz’s wife ugly would be sobered when he took on the responsibilities once shouldered by such giants as Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan. Eleven months in, it’s clear there will be no Trump transformation. What we see is what we’ll get: Storms of tweeted insults. More racial division. White supremacists and antifa activists punching it out on the streets. Trump and “Little Rocket Man” exchanging threats of nuclear annihilation. The fractured Republican Party at war with itself. In returning fire on another Republican critic, Sen. John McCain, this week, the disinhibited president warned that when he really unloads on the cancer-stricken senator, “it won’t be pretty.” About that much we can be sure: Whatever happens from here on in, it won’t be pretty. But that’s what we signed up for, isn’t it?