Some thoughts on 99 days with Trump: "Nobody knew that...could be so complicated"
To me, the "nobody knew?" line is the really insulting part of this entire time [note: this was written before "I thought it would be easier" upthread, but sub in that line instead as the worst]. I expected the grift, the palace intrigue, the lies, the demonization and attacks on millions of Americans, the attacks on institutions, the efforts to tear down useful things out of spite, and the lashing out at dissenting views, and running indecisively from crisis to crisis. I was, regretfully, prepared for that by the campaign. But the bit that punches me in the gut is the extent to which none of these are serious people. They have no interest in actually doing the hard work involved in creating something worthy of being called "policy," no interest in doing any work at all. These are people who are now shocked to discover that "this shit is hard."
The tax "plan" is a perfect example. They supposedly had over 100 staffers working on this thing, yet they failed to produce a document that answers basic questions like "how much tax will I pay?" or "what is the revenue impact of these changes?" Something worthy of the title "plan" for something that impacts every person in the country ought to compare favorably in detail to a CVS receipt.
I suspect the average President of a College Republicans chapter could have put out the same list of bullet points, possibly even a less regressive one, except they'd have done more research first. It was literally written on a cocktail napkin in the back of a club.
The same slapdash "activity over quality" approach has been true for every single task this Administration has taken on, from the most basic ones like using the correct flag or identifying its own cabinet members properly to the big ones like launching missiles or rewriting the tax code.
What this means is that there has been a total abdication of any responsibility to care about the job. White House officials openly brag to the press about how they treat the President as a child, giving him just one one option and telling him how everyone will love him for it. Heck, they even brag to the press about how they lie to the press for sport. Hundreds of posts up and down the government have been left unfilled. Nobody in the White House cares.
And while I know we do here, the country doesn't seem to care either. Even in these threads, we're falling into the trap of trying to treat these pronouncements as serious proposals, debating the virtues of 401(k) deductions as if the White House's emissions constituted a good faith effort to govern rather than an exercise in noisemaking. There's not enough substance in these pronouncements to be worthy of evaluation, not enough credible backing behind them to have any reason to care, but we're so desperate for normalcy that we want to pretend. And the press isn't doing the job, not enough anyway. Julie Bosman summed up that situation
"Journalists on twitter: This is not a plan!
Journalists in news stories: This is a dramatic plan/blueprint/proposal etc"
Institutions though, are starting to notice. Last month, Lawfare published an essay titled What Happens When We Don't Believe the President's Oath?
. It argues that a whole bunch of systems are built on the assumption that everybody will take the President more-or-less seriously, and there's a long series of repercussions that occur when that doesn't happen. And we're seeing that in a lot of places. The Sanctuary Cities ruling this week involved both the Justice Department and the Court concluding that Trump's Executive Order was a mere bunch of puffery; it was an exercise in everyone saying "well, we'll just follow what the law says instead of what he's signed here." That's how people treat a child or an elderly relative with dementia who's demanded something absurd or impossible. Congress has enough problems on its hands and continues to pretend the President doesn't exist when it comes to healthcare, the budget, or the wall, and they spend most of their time hoping he doesn't start tweeting about this stuff, because he'll just get in the way. Foreign countries are learning to ignore his threats, secure in the knowledge of how easily he caves. Companies were worried about "tweet risk," the fear their stock would nosedive after an unfavorable Presidential tweet; now nobody thinks there's any there there. Even military movements are considered comedy after the Carl Vinson Strike Group incident. Nobody puts any faith in the White House's pronouncements, because we all know they'll probably reverse themselves anytime in the next five minutes or five months.
I want to stop for a moment and mention the one story hanging over all of this: Russia. Because that's the story that hangs over everything, and nobody is dealing with it. This paragraph doesn't belong here, tucked into this particular rant, and that's kind of the problem. How can you do a serious appraisal of the first 100 days without mentioning that the election was manipulated by a hostile foreign power, one currently doing the same thing in France? But that's what pretty much every 100 day story has done. I get it; it doesn't fit the narrative. That's why I'm shoving it into this randomly placed paragraph. But it's here, uncomfortably starring us in the face, and nobody is taking the initiative to press the issue.
99 days ago on Inauguration Day, which feels like eleventy billion years ago, I was pretty much numb to what was happening. I didn't quite acknowledge it internally until I tuned into the Broadway "Concert for America" stream later that afternoon (you know, a well-meaning effort of the same sort that didn't get Clinton elected). At the end, they sang "Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In from Hair," and that's when it really hit me. I wasn't alive for that particular time period, but "here we go again" is all I could think. I was wrong. That fight at least involved, on its better days, some element of a clash of beliefs, of policies, of ideologies; people were fighting the -isms they most cared about. Today, it's all just a battle between people who give a damn and people who don't, and the White House is the guy in the back of the class furiously trying to copy his neighbor's homework in the hope of a last-ditch C. He doesn't really care if he gets the C either, but they say mean things about him on cable TV if he doesn't, and that makes him sad, so here we are with the slapdash last-minute shots. And as for the Democrats who do give a damn, virtually every serious one is too busy fighting to save scraps of what we've got to be affirmatively trying to lead us anywhere, trying to offer anything resembling a vision rather than just, at best, some resistance.
I keep coming back to a line in Julie Pace (AP)'s interview with Trump
. She asks him what part of his business background doesn't translate to the Presidency, and he seems to express surprise that you need to have heart in government, because "here, almost everything affects people...Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government, involves heart, whereas in business, most things don't involve heart." We now live in a country where it is not particularly remarkable that the President just explained that he's discovered that giving a shit about other people is a basic part of the job and that this is something new for him. I don't know how much more clearly someone can announce that he has a severe personality disorder than a 70-year-old man telling a reporter that he's recently discovered that his actions affect other people.
I wish I had some kind of hopeful conclusion here. There really isn't one; everything is awful. On the bright side, we didn't all die in a nuclear war in the first 100 days, so go team "we are not yet dead." To the extent I can tease a better one out, it's that they really do seem to be discovering that this governing thing is more complicated than they thought, and the institutions I mentioned above are starting to close ranks to limit the damage. The destructive impulses are still there, but as their incompetence becomes more and more apparent and the failures stack up, the serious institutions are learning to ignore the Administration and do their own thing. If the White House keeps squandering every opportunity by simply not caring about their jobs, the grown-ups are going to keep replacing their wrecking balls with foam rubber mallets and hoping they don't notice. And while there's lots of damage they can still do with those things, at least some institutions will survive.
This is a guy who used to shout at the politicians on cable news, "any idiot could do a better job than these clowns." And now it must be starting to dawn on him that there just might be more to it. Who knew? As President Trump learns to open up his heart and let the sun shine in, he's discovering it really could be so complicated after all. That running a country really turns out to be a bunch of work
. Maybe, just maybe, he'll increasingly find himself in a potemkin Presidency; one crafted to make him feel good about himself, letting him growl at a few targets while all the real levers of power are safely tucked away. Maybe then he'll get discouraged and find himself brokenhearted, sitting in a darkened Roosevelt Room recounting how many electoral votes he won as his staff still searches for the light switch. And then he'll press the red button on his desk, and order himself a Coke. Sad.
24 hours to a government shutdown.