As Trump approaches the mid-point of his first year, his approval ratings continue to slide, now registering the lowest levels every recorded. I can't believe it's only been six months. It has felt like so much longer.
Six Long Months of President Trump
From the beginning, people around me talked nonstop about the end.
How long could Donald Trump’s presidency possibly last? Would impeachment or the 25th Amendment undo him? Before Trump, few of us even knew of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to decree the president unfit. But suddenly everybody was up to speed, and no sooner had Trump been inaugurated than the “would you rather” question du jour became him versus Mike Pence. All-purpose lunacy or religious zeal: Choose your governance. Pick your poison.
Part of this, yes, reflected the company I keep. It doesn’t brim with Trump enthusiasts. But more of this came down to Trump himself — the lidless grandiosity, the bottomless vulgarity, the lies atop lies upon lies. I’ll never forget his second day in office, not just because he used an appearance at the C.I.A. to crow at great length about his many Time magazine covers and to insist, despite ready evidence to the contrary, that any beef of his with intelligence agencies was a media invention. It stays with me because of a text message I received from a journalist who covers him as well as any other, understands him better and was utterly flabbergasted by that display.
“We’re all going to die,” it said. While there was jest and hyperbole in that, there was also genuine alarm and the dark realization that Trump would not be transmogrified by the oath of office into anything approaching a dignified, responsible statesman. No, his extra power was just making him extra mean, and what we saw before Nov. 8 was what we got from Jan. 20 onward: a child in a man’s suit, a knave in a knight’s armor, a dangerous experiment with unforeseeable consequences.
They’re more seeable now. As of Thursday, July 20, Trump will have inhabited the presidency for a full six months, and we can reach certain conclusions with a measure of confidence.
No one can yet say how or when it ends. His dim namesake’s antics, evasions and omissions have reinvigorated talk of impeachment, but Republican lawmakers’ statements last week don’t support that scenario. With rare exception, the sternest words came from the most predictable quarters and hardly rose to the level of revolt. Maybe that’s a relief. Can you imagine Trump, with his thin skin and martyr complex, in the throes of impeachment? He’d wail and thrash and tear down everything around him. I mean, more than now.
We have to stop rolling our eyes when he brags about how much he has done, because he’s right. He has done plenty.
With his stances on climate change, trade and refugees and with all the air kisses blown at Vladimir Putin, he has altered our place in the world and splintered its postwar framework. Don’t be reassured by the recent pleasantries between him and Emmanuel Macron: Much of Western Europe is reeling from what it considers a surrender of American leadership. This, post-Trump, may be reparable. But I wonder if our sturdiest allies will ever feel quite the same way about this country again.
With his first Supreme Court appointment, he showed what he would almost surely do with a second and third: fully indulge the social conservatives who are one of the most dependable components of his base. If he lasts a full term and the Senate remains, as is likely, in Republican hands after the 2018 midterms, he could leave behind a court that leans sharply to the right for a generation to come.
With his sloppiness, scandals and inner circle of arrogant neophytes, he is frittering away time. That’s hardly a singular accomplishment, but we can’t afford more government paralysis and procrastination. Infrastructure that’s no longer competitive (or safe), a tax code crying out for revision, a work force without the right skills: When do we fix this? How far behind do we fall?
And what, in the meantime, happens to Americans’ already shriveled faith in Washington? Trump’s election reflected many voters’ exasperation with the status quo and sense of permanent estrangement from some gilded clique of winners. He was their pyrrhic retort. How much hotter will their anger burn when they realize they got played?
I’m more likely to win a season of “The Bachelorette” than he is to build that incessantly promised wall. His professed disdain for Wall Street was a campaign-season pose, abandoned the minute he started assembling his administration. Health care that’s better, cheaper and more universal? Oh, please.
It’s possible that Trump’s fans will never blame him, because of one of his most self-serving and corrosive feats: the stirring of partisanship and distrust of institutions into the conviction that there’s no such thing as objective truth. There are only rival claims. There are always “alternative facts.” Charges of mere bias are the antiquated weapons of yesteryear; “fake news” is the new nullifier, and it’s a phrase so dear to him that his unprincipled acolytes are building on it. Last week a Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, lashed out at the “fake news industrial complex.” Trump reportedly swooned.
What happens to a democracy whose citizens not only lose common ground but also take a match to the idea of a common reality? Thanks in part to Trump, we may find out. He doesn’t care about civility or basic decency, and even if he did, he lacks the discipline to yoke his actions to any ideals. The Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik expressed it perfectly, telling me, “His presidency is what happens when you have road rage in the Oval Office.”
I was just 9 when Richard Nixon resigned and a teenager during the Jimmy Carter years. I began paying close attention only with Ronald Reagan. He and every one of his successors bent the truth, to varying degrees. He and every successor had a vanity that sometimes ran contrary to the public good. But none came close to Trump in those regards.
None shrugged off conflicts of interest the way he does. None publicly savaged women (and men) based on their looks or supposed cosmetic surgery. None made gloating a trademark of his public discourse. Two scoops for Trump, one for everybody else. He’s president and you’re not. The pettiness radiates outward, as does the viciousness and lack of ethics — to his lawyers, to his kin. And it’s more than just coarse spectacle. It’s an assault on what it means to be president and what the presidency means. The injury to the office won’t be quick to heal.
Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Dec. 31, 2016
I can’t shake two incidents in particular. A few weeks before his inauguration, Trump tweeted a New Year greeting that was, instead, a spitball thrown at anyone who hadn’t genuflected before him. Last month, he coaxed his cabinet members to kiss his ring as the television cameras rolled. Those grotesque bookends affirmed that he is changeless and that he rules as he lives, for Trump and Trump alone.
Still I try for optimism: We won’t all die.
But suffer? Count on it.
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