Over the 54 days since the presidential election, the president has golfed, raged, and complained, but he hasn’t shown much interest in the job he's so desperate to keep. The American people have pretty much been on their own during a pandemic and the largest financial crisis since the 2008 financial meltdown. Not that Trump was ever a particularly effective leader, but at least he used to bother pretending. Now that the American people failed to do their part and re-elect him, he has decided it’s no skin off his back what happens to them. It turns out hell hath no fury like a malignant narcissist scorned or, in his case, voted for by an insufficient 74 million Americans.
On Saturday, the day unemployment benefits expired for millions of people, Trump tweeted, “I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill.” Trump demonstrated his desire to get people more money by refusing until Sunday to sign the virus relief bill that will get them money—and that his own Treasury secretary had negotiated with lawmakers—while letting unemployment benefits lapse for millions of Americans now teetering on the brink of financial ruin.
It was the latest shocker from our reality TV president. As we reached the gruesome milestone of one in one thousand Americans having died of coronavirus, Trump abruptly called $400 million for emergency food assistance, along with $8 billion for distributing vaccines, a “disgrace.” He played golf at his private club in Palm Beach, and declared “I don’t care” if his refusal to sign would hurt Republicans in Georgia or the American people for that matter, while complaining that his party wasn’t doing enough for him and his risible efforts to claim the election was somehow stolen from him. Would Americans get the rose and make their rent or would they be ushered off stage? Sunday evening, hours after tweeting that “good news is coming,” he signed the bill he’d called a “disgrace” in a belly-flop conclusion to his latest shoddy cliffhanger.
Trump may have theoretically wanted to give Americans those $2,000 payments but he didn’t mention those while the bill was being negotiated, or do anything afterward besides spit out a few tweets and an angry video. It’s nice that Trump’s tweeting that he wanted to give people more money but if we’ve learned anything from the last four year it’s that tweets don’t equal legislation.
The problem with being governed by a president who is completely motivated by quid pro quos is that when he doesn’t get his quo he quits, or at least throws tantrums threatening to do so. Congratulations, Trump, for doing the bare minimum, late enough that people already on the edge lost a precious week of pandemic-related unemployment benefits. Perhaps electing a public servant who is completely uninterested in serving the public was a mistake.
When Trump’s old foe, Ed Koch, lost his bid for a fourth term as mayor of New York City, he famously cracked that “the people have spoken and now they must be punished,” meaning that New Yorkers would find out the hard way what they’d lost without him as mayor. Trump, on the other hand, isn’t talking about how citizens would be hurt without him as president but is punishing citizens himself, while he’s still in power, for having had the nerve to vote him out.
Trump has another 22 days left in office. He averted a government shutdown that he almost created. The entire government will not shutter on Tuesday and Steve Mnuchin has sort of salvaged what remained of his credibility, for what that’s worth. Insult to injury, the White House’s public schedule continues to include this strangely hostile and completely inaccurate guidance: “As the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People.” That’s one way to describe tweets and golf.
Does Trump deserve credit for avoiding the shutdown he almost caused? He wanted a cliffhanger, and he got one, keeping us guessing until the very end because that’s what you get when you make a reality television host president. And while Trump may have won the news cycle yet again, the Americans have lost—because we always do with Trump.