Today marks six months since Trump took the oath. Are we having fun yet? These numbers help tell the tale: 181, 991, 40, 0.
In his first 181 days, he tweeted 991 times, played golf 40 times, and signed a grand total of 0 major legislation. Those stats tell us plenty about a tenure that appears fated to rank with the very worst in history, but in truth they only hint at the destabilizing chaos he sows on a daily basis. We are no longer citizens; we are hostages trussed with rope in the trunk of his careening limo.
How fitting it was, yesterday, that the diva of dysfunction juntion kicked off the second half of ’17 by attacking his own attorney general, and throwing a beanball at the special counsel who has been entrusted to plumb the fetid depths of his Russia connection. It’s clear — or appears to be clear, who knows? — that he wants Jeff Sessions to quit, so that he can tap a new AG who will ride herd on Bob Mueller, and it’s clear he’ll try to move on Mueller if the special counsel goes deep into the Trump family’s finances. Which are inextricably a factor in the Russia investigation.
All this, from a guy with a 36 percent approval rating, by far the worst of any elected president at the six-month mark — but what we’ve learned by now is that he “governs” for that 36 percent, the people who think he’s kickass because he stokes their grievances and hates the same institutions they hate. They indulge his serial lies because he’s their liar. They don’t necessarily care that he can’t get anything done — indeed, his odds of getting anything done are receding by the day — because his visceral rage mirrors theirs. It makes them feel good to see him breaking bad.
By every traditional measure, Trump is a manifest failure. Presidents most frequently do their best work during the first six “honeymoon” months, when their political stock is typically highest; FDR signed a flurry of New Deal measures, Reagan and Bush II signed their big tax cuts, Clinton signed upper-bracket tax hikes that balanced the budget, Obama signed economic stimulus — but Trump? Zero. And after those first six months, the window for major achievements begins to close.
Most notably, Trump’s kill-Obamacare crusade has apparently cratered (last weekend, he tweeted about health care once; about the golf tournament he was attending, he tweeted six times), and an episode involving Senator Mike Lee speaks to his weakness. Last Sunday, Trump phoned Lee in the hopes of cajoling him to support the imperiled Senate bill. One day later, Lee publicly announced he was driving a stake through the bill — and did so without informing Trump in advance. Translation: If Republicans on Capitol Hill were scared of Trump before, they clearly aren’t now. Trump’s policy knowledge can fit in a thimble, and they’ve figured that out.
As the conservative National Review said this week, “Trump has not reformed taxes. There is no world in which Obamacare wil be repealed. There is no [border] wall, nor will the wall be forthcoming any time soon.” The magazine got that right. There’s currently no funding for the purported wall. There’s barely a word from this White House about a road map for tax reform (a goal that has typically flummoxed presidents who actually know stuff). There’s no Trump strategy for how (or whether) to raise the debt ceiling, a potential crisis looming on the horizon. There’s no strategy for repairing our roads and bridges. (Remember “Infrastructure Week”? — which lasted roughly an hour?)
Trump’s instinct is to blame everyone but himself. If killing Obamacare hasn’t worked, it’s because the congressional Republicans screwed up or because the Democrats have obstructed. That’s a far cry from the tweet he thumbed four years ago, when he was busy with his beauty pageants; back then, he said, “Leadership: Whatever happens, you’re responsible. If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.”
Meanwhile, the Russia probe looms over all; if you thought the first six months were turbulent, fasten your seat belts. Trump seems to realize that he may face an obstruction of justice charge, for taking James Comey aside in private and trying to get the FBI chief to lay off probe target Michael Flynn. Like any garden-variety con man, Trump is already pleading amnesia. Yesterday, he told The New York Times: “I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff.” Nor does he claim to remember clearing the room in order to talk to Comey — a claim that puts Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence on the hot seat, because Comey has already said under oath that those guys left at Trump’s command.
But hey, Trump’s fans don’t care. “If anything,” a New Yorker reporter writes from rural Colorado, “investigations into Trump’s connections with Russia have made supporters only more faithful … Supporters can always say that Trump was never given a chance, and that the media, and the Russia investigation, and other conspiracies have worked against him.” Nor do they care (assuming they’re even aware) that our western allies think Trump is a pitiable buffoon who’s wrecking America’s global standing. As long as they stick with Trump for his rhetorical tingles, he ain’t going anywhere.
And we’ll just have to bear his historical discourses. Talking to The Times (the “failing” paper whose approval he sorely craves), he reminisced about a recent conversation with French President Emmauel Macron: “Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. So I asked the president, what about Napoleon? He said, ‘No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.’ The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had had extracurricular activities and they froze to death.”
OK … Napoleon sent his troops into Russia, but they froze to death because he had “extracurricular activities”? What activities? Where? First time I ever heard that one. And that line about how Napoleon “designed Paris” — which Macron supposedly told him — that’s a new one, too, because in truth the broad Paris boulevards were designed half a century later by an urban planner commissioned by Napoleon III … You see, there was more than one Napoleon …
Oh, what’s the use.
Hat tip to my summer research assistant, Dominic Casciato.