It can reasonably be said that our dear leader is now the most ridiculed man on the planet. In fact, he may well be the most ridiculed man in history. For a preening narcissist who takes himself terribly seriously, being the butt of the joke heard round the world has got to hurt. The handpicked assortment of craven nitwits and supplicants that he has surrounded himself with have valiantly tried to insulate him from the derision. But they’re only human. . . . . Hats off to them for their tenacity, but no amount of spin is going to change the fact that the Trump White House, like the company its inhabitant has run for the past four decades, continues to be a shambolic mess.
Trump’s one brief moment of acting presidential—when he read off a teleprompter for 60 minutes and 10 seconds during his address to Congress—served only to show just how low the bar for presidential behavior has plummeted since January. Watching TV commentators applaud him for containing himself for a little over an hour was like hearing a parent praise a difficult child for not pooping in his pants during a pre-school interview.
Trump may be a joke, but the chaos and destructive forces around him are not. If he can cause this much havoc during his first few months in office, imagine what the country and the world will look like at the end of four years. Watch him when he walks into a crowd of people. There is a slight grimace, a tightening of the mouth that to me indicates a hesitation, perhaps based on fear. The thing is, if Trump has made any sort of arrangement with the Russians—Kremlin, oligarchs, F.S.B., Mob, or any combination of the four—to drop the Obama-era sanctions in return for past favors, the hoo-ha surrounding his Russian connections now makes that almost impossible to deliver. Whatever support he has received from the Russians over the years presumably came with promises of a payback. If Trump can’t follow through on this, he might be in serious trouble.
That Trump’s supporters continue to line up behind him remains a mystery. For the Republican leadership—the Vichy Republicans, as they have been labeled—their collaboration will bear a stiff price down the road. As for the president’s followers out in the country, their air, their water, their national parks, their pensions, and their health care are all in jeopardy from planned legislation and from regulatory rollbacks already in place. I can understand the desire to effect dramatic change in Washington, but this is like being frustrated with your doctor and calling in the man who sold you aluminum siding to handle your physical.
Trump’s war with the press may have enjoyed favorable short-term results with his acolytes, but this is a skirmish he simply cannot win. Sprawling, complex stories like Watergate—or Kremlingate, for that matter—are anything but straightforward affairs, and for the reporters trying to make sense of things, it is akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. It takes time, but eventually the puzzle comes together. And as it was more than four decades ago, you’ve got two great news organizations, The New York Times and The Washington Post, in complete rut over who will get the goods first. The Post wants to reclaim the position it had after it toppled a president, in the wake of Watergate. And the Times is out to make sure that the Post doesn’t have a repeat. When the dust settles, the real history will begin. There might be the occasional hack willing to trot out some semi-fictional hagiography on this administration. But, in the end, proper historians and serious journalists will descend in droves to mop up the lies, the half-truths, and the criminality. Trump’s legacy and that of his family could end up in tatters. The self-lauded Trump brand may well wind up as toxic as the once self-lauded brand of another New York-Palm Beach family: the Madoffs.