President Chaos Collides With Reality

The first two weeks smelled and felt utterly ad-hoc, with Trump and his team calling audibles, fumbling, and racing toward the next play rather than looking back at the wreckage of the first.


Tom Pennington/Getty

The first two weeks of Donald Trump’s Presidency made it clear: Trump’s Gonna Trump. No newfound dignity for him. It was instead, as the rules of Reality TV Presidency demand, quite a show: an ongoing street brawl with the media; post-truth “alternate facts” about voter fraud; a jealous hissy fit befitting a tween girl about inaugural crowd sizes, a graceless and weird performance in the CIA’s most sacred space. And, of course, our low impulse-control President is still up to his old tweeting tricks.

We had topsy-turvy Head-of-State calls where Trump insulted and demeaned our allies, executive orders that essentially pissed off 1-billion-plus Muslims, not-so-subtly threatened to invade Mexico (boosted by his threatened domestic invasion of Chiraq). Steve Bannon displaced Generals on the National Security Council, a disastrous special-ops hit on Yemen that would have been attacked as ‘Benghazi 2’ if hatched by Hillary. And a Supreme Court nominee received the Rose from Bachelor Trump.

On the upside, White Nationalist Richard Spencer became a permanent meme for getting cold-cocked on a DC street corner while talking about Pepe. In the age of Trump, we thank God for small moments of hope and humor.

Reading the two dense paragraphs above reminds me I barely scratched the surface of the Trump Show's opening act. Obviously, President Bannon and Vice President Trump wanted the shock-and-awe phase to break the spirit of the media while throwing out a lot of candy to conservatives to amp them up in advance of the coming collision with reality.

His leadership rests on showmanship over substance, fear of the “other” over faith in our fellow Americans, and a revanchist politics like that puts the bully in bully pulpit like we've rarely seen.

That's a problem; the world is coming at Trump's White House, and fast. For those who have opposed Trump from the start, or those on both the right and left who still find him ideologically, politically, and morally repugnant, take heart. No Administration can run at this pace for long, and the Cat 5 Chaos Hurricane of the first two weeks is unsustainable.

As transgressive (and lucky) as Trump the campaigner proved to be, as President he faces something to which he’s never been accustomed to in his personal, business, or political life; accountability. That accountability comes not only in the awesome power to send men and women into war, but to the promises he made, to the people he now leads, and to the oath he swore.

We know he's not good with promises, and we know he's not good with commitments, but he's not just Donald Trump, alleged-billionaire playboy and smack-talker. He's now the President of the United States. The proverbial buck stops on his desk, and can't be erased with a quickie divorce, a convenient bankruptcy filing, or racing to some new gimcrack casino opening or golf course ribbon-cutting.

Tweeting, insults, bluster, and bullshit aren’t going to substitute for promises kept and success demonstrated beyond the Two Minutes Signing of the daily Executive Order show. They're not going to replace steady, outwardly-directed, mature leadership when crises hit...and crises will always, eternally, and inevitably hit. Externalities in foreign affairs, the economy, shifting approval numbers, natural disasters, scandals (and oh, what scandals we'll have), the complexities of repealing Obamacare and an avalanche of other issues can’t all be blamed on duh liburl media or Barack Obama. As President, there will be plenty of retrospective blameshifting, just as Obama did to excess with George W. Bush, but Trumpian promises of miracles tailored to his base aren’t going to live or die based on Obama’s legacy.

The first two weeks smelled and felt utterly ad-hoc, with Trump and his team calling audibles, fumbling, and racing toward the next play rather than looking back at the wreckage of the first. As the SEALS say, the only easy day was yesterday. Overseas, our allies are in a rising state of panic at Trump's willful destruction of the West's global security alliance in favor of the Bannon-Flynn-Putin version of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in their war against Islam.

Congress -- for now -- has largely abandoned its role as a check against the onrushing chaos and inevitable abuses of Donald Trump. As Trump's mistakes pile up, Congress will be left on cleanup detail. They're already quietly chafing over it, but publicly they continue to live in abject terror of a Mean Tweet. As he leaves them holding the fecal end of the stick, expect the quiet mutterings to grow. Trump won't have his town halls filled with angry seniors this Spring and Summer, but our Republican congressmen sure will.

The media is slowly - agonizingly, almost painfully - trying to find its way in the storm of Trump. In the election they played a dangerous game and lost. They helped select and elect Trump, played by his rules, on his tempo, and largely ignored the blazing alarms about his background, character, business entanglements, and mental fitness to serve as President until it was too late. They loved -- and profited from -- the spectacle of Trump. They assumed (as did every pollster in the known universe) he would inevitably lose to Hillary Clinton. Now, they’re facing a man who loves hagiographers with the same intensity he hates journalists, who has turned the White House press room into a pillory for professional reporters. They've finally learned to use the word “lie” to describe the mouth-hole movements of almost all Trump surrogates.

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The right's media long fought to promote conservative ideals, polices, and thinkers. And while it desperately wants to use Trump as a singular weapon against the mainstream media, many know Trump is utterly contemptuous of conservative policy, indifferent to ideas, and operates on a calculus of how lavishly he has been praised. For outlets chasing the Hannity/TrumpBart front-runners in the Sucking-Up Olympics, they are utterly blind to the fact that in a race to see who can more vigorously stroke Trump’s colossal ego they will lose, and lose badly to the weaponized elements of the propagandistic nationalist populist “media” Steve Bannon and Donald Trump prefer.

It will be interesting to see how long the click-friendly posture many have taken will hold up against the reality that Trump's handlers are (white and otherwise) nationalists. They'll have to ignore the missteps, the personal weirdness, the lack of rigor, and look politely away from whatever authoritarian tendencies he displays, no matter how many statist economic absurdities he proposes, and no matter how he thoughtlessly compromises our national security for talk-radio solutions of complex problems.

The tensions are building. The collision with reality is coming. Welcome to week three.