In the run-up to Donald Trump’s rescheduled State of the Nation address, the Washington Post is portraying the current Trump White House as a place where Trump largely runs “unrestrained.” Gone are the old staffers who would attempt to talk some sense into a man inventing policy largely from the strange delusions he insists, to onlookers, to be true; in their place, there’s only Jared.
Power has consolidated around presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser who is functioning as a de facto White House chief of staff. With counterweights like ousted chief of staff John F. Kelly now gone, some advisers say the West Wing has the feel of the 26th floor of Trump Tower, where an unrestrained Trump had absolute control over his family business and was free to follow his impulses.
That is, in implication, a hell of a pair of sentences. Current acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appears to be leaving Trump mostly to his own devices, which among other things frees Trump to obsess unrestrained with the more conspiratorial and ignorant allies surrounding him. Jared Kushner was previously reported to have been baffled as to why Democrats would not sign on to a White House proposal to reopen government that was larded with even more restrictive anti-immigrant measures than Trump had originally been asking for; Team Trump appears to have finally rid themselves not only of anyone who previously made Trump unhappy by pushing back against his stranger ideas, but anyone with the ability to look out the White House windows at all.
The Post’s reporters use this observation to speculate on just what we’re going to be seeing, in the State of the Nation speech, but the question seems to answer itself. Team Trump has rid itself of strategists, so the “strategy” of the speech will be a series of hard-right proclamations. Trump himself is currently obsessing over the notion of building a new border “wall”, and for no substantive policy need other than an urgency, in his own head, to assert his personal power after a humiliating rout at the midterm polls. He will lie, flagrantly and repeatedly. There will be talk of cooperation and reconciliation and bipartisanship, but it will be excruciatingly cheap and substanceless, crafted by a remaining staff (Kushner, Stephan Miller) capable only of crude caricatures of such speech.
There is still, even at this late date, a vain hope among the punditry that the man clearly degrading, a man more dishonest this year than last, angrier this year than last, and newly unfettered from any aides that would seek to temper him, could somehow hoist himself up to bare decency if the situation demanded he do so. He has shown no evidence of this, in any circumstance. It will not happen. He will give a speech; he will be judged not by any pretense of elegance but by whether he tells greater or lesser falsehoods to the American people than he usually does. He will then retreat to the safe space of his closest advisers and Fox News, yes men every one, and marvel at his own brilliance.
And the next morning, the crisis of having a clearly unfit national leader, a liar, an ignoramus, a tax dodger, and the head of a political campaign upon which indictments are now raining down, most of them for a seemingly coordinated attempt to mislead investigators seeking to understand the scope of Russian attempts to aid that campaign, will continue.