Alan Zendell, January 3, 2018
It’s been eleven-and-a-half months since President Trump was inaugurated. The year-long grace period many people suggested before evaluating his performance is nearly up. Given the way he behaved this week, it’s safe to say that an assessment of his first year in office will not improve by January 20th. Let’s look at a few cases in point.
After all of Trump’s Twitter insults and threats against Kim Jong Un and the entire United Nations voting for strangling sanctions on North Korea, there appeared to be a glimmer of light on New Years when the North agreed to send a delegation to the South Korea-hosted Olympics next month, and the South proposed high level talks with the North. I could be wrong, but I think the UN vote which included China and Russia and the fact that Kim now believes he’s made his point about his nuclear capability had a far greater impact on him than anything Trump tweeted.
So what did our president do in response? He tweeted that we have a lot more nukes than North Korea and ours work. Children yell, “My ____ is bigger than yours” (you can fill in the blanks) when they can’t think of any other way to win an argument. This sophomoric taunting of a potentially dangerous head of state is not only absurd, it’s dangerous. CNN reported that it prompted renewed worry among staff and allies about whether the President fully comprehends the risks he’s taking in provoking adversaries.
On Planet Trump, where the president’s perceptions of the laws of physics and the definition of truth are flexible, if we had any hope either would change, he quickly dashed them. When he opined that global warming might be the way to fix the frigid weather in the eastern US, I thought he might have been attempting irony, but it’s clear that he has no understanding of the relationship between weather and climate. It’s not really that complicated. My five-year-old grandson understood the difference after I spent two minutes explaining it to him.
The most startling thing to come out of the White House this week was Trump’s attack on Steve Bannon. He appointed Bannon senior advisor in August of 2016 and spent the nine months after the election formulating policy decisions straight out of the Bannon-Breitbart playbook. Bannon’s pervasive influence was viewed so negatively, he was portrayed as The Grim Reaper whispering evil thoughts in Trump’s ear. From Saturday Night Live, the characterization quickly spread through the media, but Trump continued to laud Bannon until the blowback by the rest of the senior White House Staff forced Chief of Staff John Kelly to fire him last August.
Bannon continued to influence Trump after he was fired, most notably by convincing him to support Roy Moore in Alabama, though there were many unconfirmed stories that Bannon, who had a reputation for viciously attacking anyone who slighted him, intended to bring Trump down. When a excerpt from Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House quoted Bannon as calling Donald Trump Junior’s infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower treasonous, the gloves came off, and Trump exploded in fury.
In his January 3 statement, Trump claimed Bannon never had any real influence in the White House, that he exaggerated his role to impress others and his agenda was self-aggrandizing and not in sync with the president’s. Trump said Bannon “lost his mind” when he was fired, and charged that he spent all his time at the White House leaking false information to the media. Where else but on Planet Trump could that have happened?
All this occurred after the president was angered by reports from his lawyers that Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion with Russia had no end in sight. The shocking revelations in Wolff’s book could only have poured fuel on the fire, and it’s likely to get worse as his description of Trump’s first year as President, based on hundreds of interviews with White House staff and other government officials paints a picture of complete chaos. Based on its own January 3 interviews with “a dozen White House officials, lawmakers and other Republicans,” CNN characterized the beginning of 2018 at the White House as “Trump’s Two Days of Fury.”
This evening, Governor John Kasich (R, Ohio) attacked Trump’s behavior, albeit politely, and warned that it was dangerous for the country. Kasich said it could only lead to disaffection among Republicans, defiance by Democrats, and even worse polarization than we’ve seen in recent years − just what we need, more gridlock and stagnation in government.
But 2018 hasn’t all been horrifying. Trump also tweeted that because of his tight management of the FAA, there were no airline deaths in the United States in 2017. But he failed to mention that there were none in the last seven years of the Obama Administration, and none after 2001 in George W. Bush’s. That would be comical if Trump didn’t actually believe his claim.
So we’ve been through a whole year of madness. And the beginning of 2018 suggests that it’s only going to get worse.