The exhausting reality show that is Donald Trump’s presidency took another strange and troubling turn last week. After his “fire and fury” comments created a week of global anxiety about a nuclear war with North Korea, President Trump took the nation back into the bitter divisions of the Civil War.
In both instances, it was Trump’s reckless language – on Twitter and in person – that unnerved and angered many Americans. It also has created worries abroad about what is going on with the world’s most powerful nation and its greatest guardian of peace, democracy and freedom. While the past week brought debate about bigotry, free speech and Confederate monuments, the most important issue to emerge is that the presidency of the United States is being controlled by a man who’s out of control.
As key staffers exit the White House in operatic fashion – the profane aria of the Mooch and the dirges for Priebus and Bannon – the nation’s chief executive is executing his presidency. He’s demeaned his crucial ally on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and alienated Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake, among others. Trump may enjoy attacking the senators, but with Republicans clinging to a two-vote majority margin in the Senate, he’s dooming his agenda on health care, tax cuts and infrastructure.
With his false equivalency between the violence of white nationalists and the actions of those in Charlottesville who opposed the message of hate, Trump even pushed away the most stalwart of GOP allies, the leaders of major corporations. He had to disband his two business advisory councils after corporate chiefs quit, first out of conscience and then out of alarm about how toxic Trump could be to their brands.
No tempering Trump
It now seems a distant and naive hope that Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff, will impose if not Marine discipline at least organizational rigor on Donald J. Trump. But the New York mogul-turned-president doesn’t take orders or even advice. He does it his way, which is to say the wrong way, without guidance, guilt or the faintest hint of learning from failure. He did, after all, assume the presidency just weeks after settling a fraud case for $25 million. He came as advertised – a man low on compassion, contrition or scruples.
The concern about an unhinged president is compounded by the tenacity of his core supporters. Nearly 65 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance, but among Republicans, he still has the support of 80 percent. A Monmouth University poll released in the midst of the Trump train wreck found that six in 10 people who approve of Trump say they can’t think of anything he could do that would make them disapprove of his job as president.
Trump famously once said he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and his followers would not desert him. That appears to be a rare instance in which he uttered a truth. But that blind support really doesn’t signal support for Trump. It signals that some people see themselves in him. They feel both dismissed and besieged by the forces of political correctness.
NC GOP goes along
Apparently, North Carolina’s Republican leaders are among the Trump followers who will accept anything he does. They responded to the events in Charlottesville and Trump’s statements with silence. Senate leader Phil Berger issued a lengthy statement Thursday after Gov. Roy Cooper called for the removal of Confederate monuments and the demise of a nutty House bill that would make motorists immune from liability if they strike a protester while exercising “due care.” Berger condemned Cooper for “reactionary and divisive statements,” but managed to go on for nearly 900 words without mentioning Trump.
North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Richard Burr, failed to defend his fellow GOP senators and praised Trump’s accomplishments. It was a profile in feebleness.
Democrats have despaired at Trump becoming presidential. They see the only fix for this presidency would be the removal of the president. When former Vice President Al Gore was asked for a single piece of advice he would give Trump, he delivered it with one word: Resign.
That’s not going to happen unless and until Robert Muller’s probe of Trump’s ties to Russia produces damning evidence of collusion or criminality. In the meantime, the nation’s democratic institutions – its courts, its Congress and its press – will have to work to keep the nation on a safe course. Ultimately, though, that will require that the Republican Party be not only in the majority, but in the lead. Trump was the party’s candidate and now is its responsibility.