In Trump’s Terrifying New Normal, Obama Is Nixon and Up Is Down

After finally living up to his vow to be ‘so presidential you’ll be bored’ for one full hour, he’s returned to form.


REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

First, let's relegate President Donald Trump's first address to the joint houses of Congress to the dustbin of what might have been.

To those still wondering if the president’s highly praised speech marked a turning point in his nascent presidency, the answer is no, definitively so, now that we have Saturday’s pre-dawn tweets revealing that the current president believes the prior president tapped his phone. The FBI may have used its wiretap authority but a president doesn't have any such thing. An Obama spokesperson has issued a blanket denial and no sensible person thinks Obama would do that. We are past the point of asking whether he means what he says.

Apparently relying on a Breitbart article, Trump wrote: "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

For all our hopes and dreams, Trump is unable to conduct himself other than as someone building casinos or hosting The Apprentice who projects his faults on to others whom he would fire if he could. He says Obama’s listening in on him because Trump would listen in on his enemies if he could. We saw this during the campaign when he projected his weaknesses on to Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco and Ben Carson, then an incurable sociopath, now a Cabinet Secretary.

One theory—excuse, actually—of Trump’s meltdowns are that they happen, mostly over the weekend, when he’s home alone. But for this one he was at home, with company, at Mar a Lago with staff, his newest Cabinet member, Wilbur Ross and his family. There’s Melania who doesn’t talk all that much but must be a good listener. Ivanka is a stabilizing force and while it’s the Sabbath, she is a stone’s throw away from his apartment at her cottage on the grounds. I wonder if, along with the millions Donald’s father gave him, he ever tell his son the time-honored wisdom that everything looks better in the morning.

Even to Trump’s legions of detractors, it was comforting to believe that his five weeks in office had somehow elevated him, that Dad, despite much evidence to the contrary, was taking charge and that everything would be alright. But a father of our country Trump is not to be. Look what it took, being chained to a teleprompter in the well of the House, for Trump to spend an hour as a credible commander-in-chief. It will be a year before he is again in the collective line of sight of Senators, his Cabinet, Generals with their medals, Supreme Court Justice in their black robes, and Ivanka, whom he promised he would be on his best behavior.

It now seems inevitable. After a spate of normality, Trump will always return to his petri dish, stew for a bit, and end up lashing out at every perceived threat while blaming everyone but himself for his troubles. It’s not that Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a whopper before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it’s that he’s the victim of a witch hunt. It’s not that the only person close to him who hasn’t talked to the Russians is Tiffany, it’s that he’s being persecuted for trying to make friends with Vladimir Putin. Want to know when it’s a crime to talk to the Russian Ambassador? Since Sessions dissembled over it while under oath, Lt. General Michael Flynn lied to the vice president while he had to know he was being taped, and since Putin became a shirtless horse-riding idol and John McCain, Meryl Streep, the president of Australia and now the former president of the United States became the new president’s punching bags.

One unfortunate outcome of the overdone praise for the speech to the half of the country adamantly anti-Trump could have been Trump luxuriating in the moment. If normal meant high Nielsen’s and huzzahs from the failing New York Times, then normal it would be, undercutting their position that he’s a menace. But he didn’t choose normal and perhaps Trump is not to be blamed. His impulses, once on his own, are reactive, immediate, and not fully volitional. There is a word for this. I can’t write it.

While Trump insisting that the press is making up stuff and causing him grief, particularly on Russia, the press, if anything, treats every article like a moonshot that has to be fail-safe correct. Trump trails lies like breadcrumbs, and never corrects his own. Other than a mistaken bulletin that a bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from the Oval Office, immediately corrected by the reporter but milked by the administration as an example of fake news to a fare-thee-well, the mainstream press goes to great lengths to get nothing wrong.

On the other hand, Trump is often wrong, but never takes back anything. He said it stopped raining when he rose to give his Inaugural Address. It started raining. He said that more people were there than at Obama’s Inauguration. Not close. That millions of people cheated at the ballot box, that crime is soaring, unemployment vastly higher than calculated, that coal miners will have jobs if they’re allowed to dump runoff into streams. False, false, false, false. When challenged, it’s always “that’s what people told me.” Yes, the same folks who told him Obama was born in Kenya.

On the one hand, it's only been five weeks. On the other, it's been five weeks and our respite thinking it's going to get better has come and gone. When Nixon talked to portraits in the middle of the night, it was near the end. Trump is openly striking out against enemies real and imagined in the middle of the night to the point of calling his predecessor sick and we are only at the beginning. He hasn’t begun to feel the pressure of the office.

Perhaps Trump is not to be blamed. His behavior is purely reactive, not mediated by thought or tempered by a spouse, a daughter, or an aide. He believes he doesn’t need help but oh, does he ever. There is a word for this but I’m not going to use it.

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There’s a word for us and I will use it—gullible, easily conned, wanting to trust to the point of incredulity. After the Friday Night Madness, it is time to get over the illusion that a speech means we will be alright. We won’t.