Trump is dying by a million cuts, and also a million big ones.
For a moment, let’s set aside Trump’s conflicts of interests, his team of openly corrupt opportunists and comic book villains, his inability to tease facts from fiction or even a desire to try. Table, for a second, the obvious fact that Trump is, without a doubt, the least qualified person to ever be president.
At the core of Trump’s disastrous presidency, the press really is one of his biggest challenges. And in a sense, he has every right to be furious at the way he’s being covered. No other president has ever faced such an overtly hostile press corp. No other president has had as many people working within his own administration who are willing to stab him in the back with an anonymously sourced quote. This dysfunction is mind boggling. While we were sending out tweets warning “This. Is. Not. Normal.” we were also, in effect, normalizing the fact that every nugget of scandalous information we got to confirm our suspicions that Trump is a trainwreck was gleaned in ways that would make a failed state’s corrupt regime nauseous. In one recent New York Times article, reporters had over thirty sources. THIRTY PEOPLE were willing to dish on Trump — provided they received anonymity. That is not normal.
Which isn’t to say Trump doesn’t deserve it. Most of the intrigue, scandals, and ethics violations the press exposes turns out to bear fruit. (A few don’t, for examples see Becket Adams at the Washington Examiner.) Trump’s White House is being covered like a shitshow precisely because it is a shitshow. But given the unending drama, the market for blood has never been higher. When Trump is firing the FBI director tasked with investigating him and leaking classified intel to Russia, a reporter is hardpressed to do anything but find more kindling to keep the fire going. And it pays, Washington Post managed to break their all-time “concurrents” record with news of Trump’s Russia leak.
And Trump makes it really easy because he’s incompetent, amoral, and mercurial. The scandals will keep coming.
To see how this constant stream of bad news has perverted our perspective, the Russia leaks are a good example. In a way, Trump’s leaking of classified materials to Russia is one of the more mundane scandals of his nascent White House. It’s a major fuck up, but one that isn’t beyond the realm of possibilities for any administration to do. President Obama once accidentally leaked the name of his top spy in Afghanistan in a press release. Shit happens.
What makes Trump’s classified leak different is how Trump tackles it. For starters, the impulse to lie and lash out in the face of any scandal is cranked up to 11 in the Trump White House. Their motto may as well be “never give an inch.” This defensive, dishonest mentality often makes Trump’s reaction to a bad story even worse than the original crime itself. He and his team spew a torrent of lies, contradict one another in their frantic desperation, and have their attempted narratives imploded by Trump’s own impulsiveness hours later. Everything looks like a cover up because everything is a cover up. (For comparison, Obama’s White House realized they screwed up in releasing the spy’s identity, acknowledged it and tried to rectify the situation. Trump has yet to even admit he was wrong about American Muslims celebrating 9/11.)
Having a daily rundown of disasters in the White House is entertaining. Like many, I find myself giggling and shaking my head when a reporter notes that Trump has, say, a red button in the Oval Office that brings him Diet Coke or that he worked out a deal where he gets an extra scoop of ice cream when hosting guests. I read along as reporters livetweeted a shouting match between Trump’s communications team in the wake of the Russia scandal while beleaguered staffers frantically cranked up the volume on nearby televisions to drown out the noise.
But, the enjoyment is little more than gallows humor. It’s extremely important to remember that we are smack dab in the middle of an oddly peaceful time. There are still tragedies, hardships and several unending wars, but America is in a state of relative harmony. There have been no major terrorist attacks since Trump took office. The economy is still growing. There hasn’t been a natural disaster befitting the title “Trump’s Katrina.” It’s been…sort of quiet. Too quiet.
But that serenity will inevitably burst and when it does, we are going to have a president who is not only a complete moron, but one who also doesn’t have the faith of anyone in politics, intelligence, or “main street.” His poll numbers are lower than Nixon’s post-Watergate and he’s been president for little over 100 days. The intel community despises him. The press hound him, expose him, and mock him and the American public largely doesn’t mind. In many cases, reporters are learning that the American public would actually like them to be harder on Trump. The usual good faith provided to presidents doesn’t apply to Trump — who so thoroughly debased himself throughout the campaign that he likely torched his credibility before ever taking the Oath of Office.
What will become of his government when it’s actually tasked with doing something more time-sensitive and precarious than deregulating the EPA and holding Election 2016 victory rallies? Trump watches Fox News all morning, golfs at his own courses every weekend, and tweets in a stream of consciousness that no doubt gives plenty of ammunition to both America’s enemies and allies.
For that reason alone, Trump is not qualified to continue being president. Whether his followers think the treatment of Trump by the press has been fair or not (hint: it is) is beside the point. Trump cannot lead a country that does not respect him and the system failures are not just a further sign of “partisanship” and “bubbles.” He has alienated himself from every major institution in American society. In many cases, he did this knowingly, substituting any sense of dignity and goodwill for the short-term rush of getting approving nods on Fox and Friends.
So here we are, stuck with a president who is too incompetent to get anything done and wouldn’t be able to even if he wanted to given the hostility he brought on himself over a lifetime of being an unrepentant asshole. Meanwhile, we are left going through the motions, pretending the presidency still means anything under Donald Trump. Hoping, desperately, that the rest of the world doesn’t notice that American democracy died months ago and only lumbers on out of some kind of vague muscle memory.