You Can’t Get the Ketchup Off the Resolute Desk
(Thanks to Chapo Trap House for the perfect title).
This past Fourth of July weekend, President Donald Trump woke up mad. His on-again, off-again feud with CNN was most definitely on again, and he had spent the past few days embroiled in a series of spats with his favorite punching bag: the “FAKE NEWS!” media. Whether Trump himself surfs The_Donald, or whether, more likely, one of his chinless spawn found it and showed papa, he somehow got his hands on a gif altered by “HanAssholeSolo” of Reddit showing old footage of Trump body slamming Vince McMahon in a wrestling promo. The CNN logo had been cunningly inserted over McMahon’s face, allowing Trump to work out his frustration at the media.
For some reason, this exploded. Coming on the heels of a week marked by Trump sparring with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC, this was declared to be a new low point for the office, a tragic abandonment of dignity by a President who had already violated every norm in the book. Very serious pundits shook their heads in sorrow. Did Trump not realize he was demeaning the office he holds? Was nothing sacred anymore?
It is true that Trump has, perhaps irreversibly, damaged the dignity of the Presidency. It is also true that he is without a doubt the dumbest man ever to be President. He doesn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid or between trade deficits and budget deficits. He credulously believes everything he’s told by anyone sufficiently deferential. His executive orders have frequently been so half-baked that the ACLU hasn’t even bothered to challenge them. He torpedoed his own travel ban by bragging about it on Twitter. Every time he’s gotten involved in health insurance negotiations he’s made things worse for his side. He is very, very, very stupid and he shows no sign of learning or improving himself.
None of this is a bad thing. Trump, the wannabe autocrat whose coming, we were warned, presaged fascism, is one of the weakest Presidents of the 20th century. His incompetence, his failure to staff up the executive branch, and his short attention span have conspired to devolve back to Congress powers that the Presidency has enjoyed for decades. This is an unmitigated good. I posit that Trump’s weakness and buffoonery is, long-term, a positive for the health of the nation.
Many liberal writers noted the growth of the imperial presidency under Bush. Establishing the new Department of Homeland Security, expanding surveillance and warmaking powers, the Bush administration defied the checks and balances that were supposed to restrain it. When Obama came into office on a platform of “hope and change,” he inherited these powers and expanded them. Between data collection and drone striking, Obama constructed an elaborate and opaque system answerable to no one but the President. By ruling via executive orders, he bypassed an intransigent Congress but pushed the envelope of what the President can unilaterally do. For Republicans, whose stated goal for years has been to undo the entire Obama presidency, these EOs are the perfect vehicle for their ambition.
All presidents have cloaked themselves in the “dignity” of the office. Perhaps this has value as a national symbol, but it also serves to muzzle criticism of the President. Obama was, in one sense, very presidential; he was erudite, dignified, intelligent, witty, a consummate politician who carried out his day-to-day duties with care and aplomb. He also presided over a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the 1%, bombing campaigns all over the Middle East, a coup in Honduras, the continued destruction of American labor, and the complete miscarriage of justice following the 2008 crash. Obama’s presidency failed to improve the lives of millions of Americans and they punished him at the ballot box, first by taking away his cooperative Congress and then by electing Trump. All his much-vaunted “dignity” accomplished was to mask the true failings of his presidency from elites, so that Trump came as a shock.
This idea of “decorum” is a farce, a joke to allow American elites to believe that their leader is a wise statesman rather than a warlord or tool of the 1%. Trump is a disaster, but not because he’s rude on Twitter. He has murdered thousands of civilians abroad in increased drone strikes, gutted environmental protections, presided over an increasingly cruel and sadistic deportation process, and appointed a regressive Supreme Court Justice who will be hard at work stripping back the hard-won victories of the past century. Trump is a disaster because of his policies, in other words, not because of his feuds or his fights. If we installed Mike Pence tomorrow he would be sober, measured, polite, and every bit the ruthless cannibal that Trump is. The elite opposition, though, would disappear in a cloud of relief. Thank God, they would say, we have a President again.
I hope that this is permanent. I hope that the “dignity of the office” has been exposed for the blood-soaked lie it is. Trump has no dignity, not because he is a fat, rude baby, but because he is a gluttonous murderer with the morals of a viper. In this he is hardly different from any other President. Let us do away forever with the myths of comity and the sober, statesmanlike President. Let us judge our leaders on what they do in office, not just how they act. Let us not pretend that if the finger on the button is clean and well-manicured, then the decision to launch is a just one. Too often, liberals confuse process with outcomes, assuming that anything done with professionalism and style is right. Let them be disabused of this notion. You can’t ever get the ketchup off the Resolute Desk, so revel in it. Let’s spend less time worrying about our President’s tweets and more time fighting his evil agenda.