The savvy if optimistic Paul Waldman observes, “now that [administration] purges have begun, things could get even worse. At least it should be fun to watch.” What if that payoff doesn’t satisfy even his dubious bar for “fun”? Just how much “fun” can America stand before mass resistance and strikes define rational responses?
Okay, some of us already delight in imagining legacy tags for Trump’s fun house: Liar-in-Chief? Unprecedented Fabricator? Witless Whacko? Fumbling Fabulist? A Fraudulence of Unforced Errors? Or does Trump’s tectonic disruption reinforce the old myth – hold the applause – that anybody can become president? But won’t there be comeuppance for violating two centuries of standards for minimum credentials, governing experience, knowledge, emotional stability, judgment or leadership? Will the presidency survive intact if no penalty applies for today’s onslaught of invention, distortion and lying?
Frankly, gallows humor aside, “fun” is AWOL. If Trumpery were still entertaining, rather than oppressive, many would painfully sigh, “here’s another of God’s peculiar jokes.” But what if the price for laughing (or wailing) out loud is too great? What if four years of Trumpery seriously warps our democratic institutions? What if the price for Trump’s devilish “amusement,” starring a war against truth and evidence, is our collective soul?
Tedium, refuge of scoundrels?
What most likely derails Trump is not political chaos (got that, in spades), nor outsized, self-induced humiliation (ditto) but sustained audience boredom. Incompetence is funny the first time but pathetic as steady routine. A demagoguery of deceit isn’t just immoral, lowering already wobbly standards; ultimately, dishonesty insults our essential communal, consensual sense of reality, substituting instead an empty, nasty void. That’s why so many, confronting transparent Trump phoniness, “are not amused.” What worked for Trump as featherweight celebrity performer, in his own made-up TV world, now fosters unmatched White House dysfunction undisguised by noisy, crude staff charades.
Non-stop exposure occurs when the tin-ear performer blocks out audience groans, instead upping the ante, desperately lurching from bad to worse. How engaging (or cringe-worthy) will it be when this unserious character, say in three months, morphs into a staggeringly unserious, laughingstock of a president? How long before the Trump chump stunt squanders its political capital, and the only option: where to shipwreck with the least damage to the global brand? After all, Trump wildly over-promised what even a competent, skilled president could do – and the shortfall will doom him.
Most sensible analysts attribute Trump’s win to a weak opponent and his novel schtick, so weird and fast-moving it delivered, even for disgruntled, anti-Trump Republicans, manic entertainment. Sure, gullible true believers bought his change agent snake-oil, however flawed, duplicitous or idiotic. But like passing by a ferocious car crash, curiosity quickly turns to horror when gobs of blood and broken body parts appear.
Presidential fatigue inevitably hits, but not in the first month. I anticipate growing impatience and tedium that answers to swelling, self-generated fiascos. Donald has only himself to blame, not the garden variety press, nor cautious Democrats, abused judges and foreign officials. His outpouring of “fake news” (here he’s king of the hill) is already working like a giant boomerang. What else explains the Trump Chump Slump: approval numbers below 40% – thus shockingly, 60% object (10% more than a month ago).
Totally predictable Trump slump
Ain’t Trump’s smiling “disruption” fun, where world class blundering meets rhetorical inflation (re “our fine-tuned” showcase), exposing what “zero government experience” means to those who honor reality. Even the world’s best surgeon, scientist or CEO can’t throw an accurate forward pass, let alone the winning touchdown with seconds to go. Who but yahoos in a trance hire a bankruptcy-prone real estate magnet to the world’s most complex, management job?
What’s most disheartening is how utterly predictable this catastrophe was/is. The most obvious truth so far is how thoroughly this twisted presidency, flush with decoys, disorder and duplicity, crowns his absurd, off the tracks campaign. Let us appreciate the transparent sequence: the greatest wingnut nominee spawned the most outrageous presidency, with more to come. Let’s hope our besieged culture can stand this much fun.
Suicide is easy, progress is hard
Building up is hard work, and an upsurge of progressive/liberal activism is Trump’s inadvertent gift to America, the inherited “mess.” Brace for a freakish experiment that tests the strength of our institutions, driven by a slick con artist candidate now hustling as con-artist president. There are breaking points, and my greatest concern is we won’t know the worst outcomes until after the fact.
IMO, Trump will do anything to say in office – fitfully and at all costs trying to restore his battered image – whatever price the country ultimately pays for his craven publicity gambit. Already our national election campaigning has been degraded, and we can’t go back. Time already to consider repair agendas to handle what has all the hallmarks of a national train wreck.
Time also to grieve – for all of democracy is taking a body blow. Trump feasts on chaos, supposedly knocking opponents off kilter as he confuses surface dominance with accomplishment. He will produce some positives, intended or not, as his awareness is so peculiar. But a successful presidency, hardly, though this final lesson will live on: beware electing a suspiciously rich, allegedly brilliant business titan to our highest, most daunting office. In the next four years we’ll all be front and center to endure grievous impacts not just to domestic and foreign affairs, but to what’s left of America’s hard-won moral and political strengths, on openness, minority, civil and women’s rights, even the occasional military restraint.