by Alex Knepper
I fell in love with presidential politics during the 2004 race and have been writing about it ever since. I love the presidency. I love presidential campaigns. I think the president is always a vital player in corralling his party behind a coherent, purposeful agenda.
Since the inauguration, I been caught in a lull as a political writer, largely because, as I suggested in previous articles, President Donald Trump makes me less angry than depressed. Unlike all but a couple of past presidents, Trump is anything but a vital player, and is incapable of becoming one. He is worse than useless; he entered office as a lame duck and still has nothing to brag about but his victory over Hillary Clinton, whom Republicans quite obviously miss very much. Trump has spent the entirety of the last six months wielding his unique reverse-Hand-of-Midas ability to turn everything into shit — which he then proceeds to fling at everyone. It’s “damn good for CBS“! But I didn’t get into politics to cover it like a paparazzo.
A president who maxes out at a 45% approval rating and is stuck mostly in the 38-42% range is incapable of wielding leverage. He is neither feared nor loved. Leaders of Trump’s own party casually dismiss his proposals, and he has so alienated the other party that he cannot possibly form viable non-traditional coalitions, despite running last year, in a sense, against both parties. For the last half-year it has been almost like America doesn’t have a president. At best, Trump can hope to become a bill-signing machine for the Congressional GOP. But with nearly every plank of the Republican agenda stalled despite the party controlling nearly every conceivable part of government — the presidency, the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, governorships, state legislatures — there is in a sense little to write about. Each time I try to write something about an event like Trump’s classless, clownish speech to the Boy Scouts, I am stopped by the sentiment I expressed at the end of last year that I refuse to spend the next four years in perpetual anger and irritation. The healthiest way I can react to Trump’s hijinx is to ignore them.
It depresses me that my opinion of the President of the United States is such that I can do little but roll my eyes at him and ignore him. But I would rather be depressed than fearful. I stand by what I wrote in February:
I don’t trust Trump in the least. What I trust is our Constitution and the durability of liberal principles. We are not used to real instability and division in contemporary life; our Founders, however, were preeminently concerned with those matters. I trust in our system of separation of powers and checks and balances, I trust that we have good people in our courts and in the Senate — the judiciary will continue to prove its worth as the most reliable defender of individual liberty — and I trust that the voters will do the right thing in the 2018 midterm elections. And I perceive that, even though his presidency is a national disgrace, there is some truth to what my friend Tim Hulsey warned me about last year before the election took place: that it may be the case that the only thing worse than losing the election would be winning the election, given that whoever won was destined to enter office under a haze of illegitimacy and head up an almost-certain-to-fail administration under siege from all directions.
So far, this has more-or-less come to pass. Even the vaunted ‘travel ban’ is mostly for show. That is the Trump brand, after all: little light, but lots and lots of heat. For now, Obamacare looks very much alive, and plans for a border wall look very much dead. In Neil Gorsuch, Trump has appointed a reasonable and accomplished justice. NATO and NAFTA are untouched, we finally bombed the Assad regime in Syria, the Iran Deal remains, and the United States not moved any closer toward a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin.
The most dangerous facet of the Trump presidency is his fans’ cultish devotion to him — and their willingness to shrug their shoulders or even cheer as he inclines toward slashing or burning some new norm. The most strident among them carry a revolutionary mindset — witness Cinzia’s desperate battle-plan to quell the obviously-legitimate questions surrounding Russia. She conflates collusion and puppetry, denying the latter as if it vindicates Trump from the charge of the former. She suggests shocking breaches of traditional protocol, including finding a way to sack Robert Mueller as special counsel — probably because she knows the Trump family’s taxes are almost certainly a minefield of legally dubious practices. And she calls for too little, too late on trying to convince Americans that Russia is our friend — which coming from Trump would have no credibility whatsoever and which would be a terribly difficult sell from any politician, even a popular one, or one who is effective at something other than campaigning.
The other danger, which should not be understated by any means, is the potential for Trump to overreact to some crisis. I am fearful when I imagine some new 9/11 taking place under Trump, and how he might react: what fearful, angry, outraged Americans might authorize him to do. I do not wish to speculate, but we cannot dismiss or downplay the very real threat of his militaristic, hyper-security-oriented side rearing its head.
With his agenda stalled, his antics more-or-less successfully contained, and his daily agenda consisting mostly of shit-flinging, Trump is so far more of an embarrassment than a threat to the republic. There are still some days during which I am bitter that a deserving, hard-working nominee lost to this graceless pretender to the presidency — but if what we have seen so far is the worst Trump is capable of, then, between silent thank-yous to the Founders for their foresight, we should be grateful for every moment we feel merely embarrassed.