This is not sustainable.
That is obvious, correct? To anyone not personally-invested in Donald Trump on an emotional level, which – unfortunately, describes somewhere between two-thirds to three-quarters of his voters, it is patently obvious that this can’t continue. There aren’t enough people in the country, for one thing. Donald Trump is not even a year and a half into his first term of office and yet has gone through 2 Chief of Staffs, 2 National Security Advisors, 3 White House Communications Directors, and that’s just the inner-sanctum, we’re not even stretching out into other departments, State, the FBI, etc. More and more, Trump doesn’t even seem interested in filling the newly vacant positions. It is as if even he knows that the entire administration is just a charade, an act, a TV show, one that is getting tired, and it isn’t worth the effort anymore to fill positions that no qualified person wants. So, he doesn’t. He never “replaced” Hope Hicks as Communications Director, he just subsumed the job unto himself. Word is that John Kelly will be gone in July.. Odds that Donald Trump believes he needs a “Chief of Staff” other than himself? The President himself has stopped “investing” in his administration, he’s not willing to put in the effort to fill vacancies, tell me that he doesn’t understand that the gig is almost up?
There is so much goodness built into the institutional-nature of our government, goodness rooted in the selfless work of people like Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and all the way up to Biden, Obama. That institutional strength, certain “norms” established over centuries, can withstand just a shitload of abuse. After all, Trump isn’t the first horrible, self-obsessed, criminal to occupy the Oval Office. No, in fact, the office never belonged to the saints of the modern age. Hell, the people who created the office, perhaps the greatest political minds ever assembled, they were criminals who designed a government wholly around, and accommodating of, flaws inherent to human nature. Checks and balances, multiple fall-back safety valves, etc. The stuff you learned in eighth grade civics. The country wouldn’t have gotten to where it is without these “built-in” supports, the weight-bearing joints. Problem is, that same institutional strength that got us here, and has kept things semi-normal, is now propping-up a person who has disqualified himself so many times over we’ve become numb to it all. The institution of the presidency is keeping the current president afloat, it is allowing all of us to pretend the TV show is reality, and that it isn’t that bad.
But, it is not just “that bad,” it is worse than we appreciate.
Just in the last month, we’ve learned that the president lied to the American people – right to our faces, about knowing about pay-offs to a porn star. In normal times, a president paying off a porn star without anything more would be right on the edge of leaving office, but we assumed this president had paid off women. It is the women he hit, assaulted, and paid off, that we really want to know about, not the one that spanked him with a magazine. We learned his personal lawyer is taking the 5th about something, undoubtedly related to the payments that same lawyer has accepted from a Russian oligarch currently sanctioned by the United States. Now we’re learning that corporate America refused to be “outbid” by a bunch of foreigners, AT&T and Novartis got in on the action, too. We found out that this president used a private “security firm” of ex-Mossad agents, “Black Cube,” to dig up “dirt” on aides to the former president, Americans who were just doing their job, at risk of having their personal lives lit on fire because they dared to do their jobs and push a policy this president disfavors. We learned that this president is considering taking the 5th Amendment over speaking to perhaps the most respected prosecutor/investigator of our generation, a lifelong Republican, whom the President has called out as leading a “witch hunt,” a nefarious attempt at a coup, essentially. This is all just the “recent stuff” that is coming off the top of my head, each individual revelation would have been sufficient to (rightly) have had endless Congressional hearings had any of it occurred under Obama. Obama’s IRS rightly had a list of “political words” it used to evaluate 501(c)(3s) which, by definition, are not supposed to be political, it included liberal groups, and it became the “IRS scandal” to Republicans. What the fuck would they do if Obama had even a whiff of the scandal that this one has? God only knows. Literally, because we’ve never had a president that carried this kind of corrupt baggage, openly and proudly.
Perhaps this will put things in perspective. I have a friend who is an assistant (low level) U.S. attorney in a field office. My friend assured me – and I don’t doubt him for a minute – that he would be canned within 48 hours if he refused to speak to a duly appointed investigator who requested an interview. My friend is in the “executive” branch, and goes to work every day knowing that it is a privilege to serve the people, and that privilege comes with some expectations. Your average every day citizen enjoys the “right to remain silent,” the right to refuse to speak to an investigator. A person privileged enough to be asked to work within the executive branch has that same “constitutional right,” but it would be invoked at the cost of his job. Trump has a constitutional right to tell Mueller to get lost. But he has no constitutional “right” to be president. It is a privilege, he just acts as if it is his birthright and someone is attempting to unfairly steal it from him.
That’s what really sets this president apart from all who came before him. Even Nixon knew there were limits. Even Nixon knew that the institution was bigger than him. I don’t think Trump does. I don’t think Trump is capable of separating himself from the office, from separating his fate with that of the country’s. I believe that Trump thinks he is the United States president in the person, and what is good for Trump is good for America. That is why everything is so personal. It is not enough for him to oppose people on issues. No, like hiring Black Cube, Trump must destroy the people who oppose him. I think he is just mentally unbalanced enough to fully believe that he is helping the country by helping himself.
What is our China policy? Well, we were going to be tough on China, except then the Chinese were “so nice to him,” “nicer than anyone has ever been,” he’d “never been treated better.” Do you see? He simply cannot separate himself. from the country. He’s incapable of looking at an issue (as if he cares about issues) and dividing between whether it is good for him, or good for the country. In his mind, it’s a fool’s exercise, since there’s no difference. One wonders if the Chinese made a proposal such as: “We want you to lift tariff’s on Chinese steel. We recognize only the greatest president could possibly be bold enough to lift his own tariffs so quickly, so we are willing to provide steel free for any Trump project anywhere in the world, in exchange for the change in policy,” whether Trump could find a way to convince himself that A) there was no conflict in the deal since the president cannot have a conflict, B) that it didn’t violate the emoluments clause because the free steel would eventually help employ Americans so it was not personal to him, and C) that the deal was in the country’s best interest, because obviously it benefits him, so it must benefit the United States.
It is not like I’m hitting on some yet unseen or unappreciated truth. We all know this, we’ve understood it since about the second month of the administration, when it became apparent that, just like the campaign, there’d be no “pivot” to “normalcy.” There would be no point where it “sunk-in” and “he got it.”
The question remaining is whether anyone cares. Actually, that’s not the question, the question is whether there are enough people who care. Mitch McConnell knows exactly what is happening, he just doesn’t care. He is too busy stuffing the federal judiciary with wholly unqualified, but extremely conservative judges, judges that will sit there for a generation, carrying on the Trump legacy. Paul Ryan knows what is happening, he just doesn’t care. He is getting that tax cut and is well into his sud-soaked college fantasy of dismantling the New Deal (part of which paid for his college). He has to get out now because he knows the gig is up come November, but he doesn’t care. He cares that’s he goes out a “winner,” to lobby for top dollar.
John McCain cares. George W. Bush cares. Jesus, Mitt Flipping Romney cares – that’s one hell of a line-up, rich, craven, conservatives – but rich, craven, conservatives who know that the United States is better than this, that the country is bigger than any one person, and the current president is a fraud and a threat, no matter how much dreamy policy he delivers. They know we ought to be ashamed, we ought to feel like we’re letting Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, hell, Rosa Parks, we’re letting them down. The difference between the McConnell-group and the McCain-group is that the McCain group knows that accepting and normalizing Trump is failing at the most important job entrusted to us as civic participants. We have been handed the richest, freest, most promising nation/society in the history of mankind, with one simple instruction, “don’t fuck it up.” We’re failing. McCain and Romney know it and care, we care, McConnell, Ryan, and the average Trump voter don’t care.
We will find out soon if enough people care. I remain an optimist. But, even so, history is going to be absolutely blistering when it writes of our generation. Think of the “god-like” status bestowed by writers upon the “Greatest Generation.” Now, reverse it. Replace the reverence with disdain, the selflessness with jaw-dropping greed, the sacrifices made with the opportunities stolen, the depth with the shallowness, their commitment to our self-absorption. That’s our fate already, too late to change much about it now …except for the very end. The end result is still up in the air, and there is always room for heroes. Now is the time for heroes. Our nation is under attack, a much different attack than that experienced in 1941, but one just as destructive – if not more. Heroes pulled this nation out of that challenge, it required them to fight, at home and abroad. We have it easier. We can be heroes by simply caring.
Because, this isn’t sustainable. Trump sure seems to realize it. He just doesn’t care, and he’s betting that enough of us don’t, either. Luckily, Trump loses a lot of “bets.”