I am back from our nation’s capital after having enjoyed two musicals, one movie, two ethnic restaurants, four American breakfasts (mostly omelets), barbeque, two museums on the Mall and a quick tour of the Capitol over three full days. I chose last Friday to go into D.C. It was odd to play the role of tourist considering I lived in the area for nearly 35 years.
DC weather rarely disappoints expectations in July. It certainly didn’t last Friday when the heat topped 95F and walking around the Mall felt like going into the sauna. Despite the horrid but predictable July weather, things felt, well, different. I remembered a time when you could get into the Capitol easily. You just passed through security and wandered around. Back then areas the public wasn’t supposed to go in were clearly marked off but otherwise you wandered around as you pleased. Now you go to the Capitol Visitors Center and get a ticket for a substandard tour. You won’t get to see either the House or Senate chambers. (There is a separate tour for that.)
Also new was the current occupant of the White House. During the Capitol tour the tour guide was agog over the slogan on our currency: E pluribus unum, or Out of many: one. I guess he couldn’t tell the truth: that our Congress has perhaps never been so undemocratic. It is so gerrymandered that moderates are nearly extinct in Congress. While we were there our narcissistic Cheeto-in-Chief was kicking off a special commission to look into the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. The only fraud is the actual intent of the commission: voter suppression so more of those people aren’t allowed to vote. Arguably these laws put Trump in the White House in the first place. Anyhow, the very limited access the public now gets to the Capitol is symbolic of our national dysfunction. It is harder than ever to meet your legislator unless you represent some interest with plenty of cash. Most likely the one giving the cash doesn’t even employ people in the legislator’s district. Congress critters are even giving up on town halls, unless the audience consists of prescreened partisans. To our new aristocracy, the rest of us are rabble and not worth their time.
Meanwhile, the acts in the Trump circus kept getting more bizarre. Trump’s interview with the “fake media” New York Times signaled a four-alarm fire. Trump clearly has no idea what he is doing, and has at best a minimal grasp of the issues. The acts kept changing when we were in town too. Gone is press secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer, and in is former hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci as, of all things, White House Communications Director. I shouldn’t be surprised because apparently having no experience in a problem domain is a prime qualification for being chosen by Trump. Still, it was one more breathtakingly bad appointment amongst so many others. It’s also clear from the Times transcript and Trump’s latest tweets that he is obsessed with the Russian investigation, to the point that he has pretty much given up governing. Providing no national calamities happen, this is good news and explains why nothing is getting done even though Republicans control three branches of government.
In the Times interview, Trump made it clear that he reserves the right to fire Special Counsel Mueller and that his ability to pardon is unconditional, which apparently also includes being able to pardon himself. His lawyers are writing arguments to make the case, which suggests if push comes to shove he will pardon all his friends and family implicated in the scandal even though he continues to say there is nothing there. But if there is nothing there, why would he pardon anyone? Why is he so scared?
The answer is clear: it’s because there’s plenty of fire under the visible smoke. You don’t get this kind of response from someone who is innocent and confident that the facts will vindicate him. You get it from someone who knows he is guilty and is prepared to use every tool at his disposal to ensure no one pays a price, especially Trump. From all reports Trump spends most of his days obsessively watching TV to see how he is coming across in the media. Image is everything to him, but he can’t seem to make this Russia thing go away. So he is preparing for the nuclear option: pardon and fire his way out of it. The more scared he gets the more bizarre his behavior gets too.
From this we can reasonably infer things won’t get better, but they will get much worse as Trump senses a cage coming down around him. Which means that our country is at a moment of unique peril. The most perilous part of it is not whether Trump survives or not. It’s whether our enemies use this opportunity of national dysfunction to play their hand. We got a glimpse of it last week when we learned that Trump and Putin had an unannounced private meeting at the G-20 conference in Hamburg. Curiously it wasn’t log afterward that Trump announced that the United States would no longer give support to anti-Assad forces in Syria.
Trump constantly defends Russia so it’s not hard to infer that Russia has the goods on him, he knows it, and he is being blackmailed. All this is likely to come out in time as a result of investigations underway. As a narcissist Trump is driven into denial about his own failings, so he must project them elsewhere using a cast of predictable enemies: the “fake” news media, Democrats, disloyal Republicans and of course Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He’s also probably trying to figure out a way to exit this trap. He hopefully understands that can’t pardon himself out of this problem and remain president, although Trump may be delusional enough to think he can. Trump will look desperately for a face-saving solution that allows him to blame others. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin laid out the most plausible outcomes. It’s most likely #4 or #5, probably #4 as it’s the easiest path for a narcissist to deal with his cognitive dissonance.
One thing is for sure: it will be more than a bumpy ride. As a nation, we are going to go through months and years of airsickness, not to mention grave mortal danger to our nation. It’s quite unclear that Republicans will put country over party. We can hope for it but we should not expect it. The parallels with Watergate are murky at best. The best we can hope for is that Republicans will come to consensus that they are better without him, and vote to impeach and remove him. The hope then lies in Trump’s increasing franticness and that this turbulence will be very severe but relatively short.
Buckle your seatbelts folks and if you are a praying type, now is the time for fervent prayer.