I hate to be a downer, but even when Donald Trump does the right thing, he does the wrong thing.
We must get used to this. This is not just TrumpWorld anymore. It’s our world. And it will be ours for at least another four years.
And so a Trump adviser goes on Morning Joe — my God, we now get our news from Joe Scarborough — to say that Trump will ignore yet another campaign promise. In this one, Trump breaks the hearts of the “lock her up” crowd by saying he won’t pursue a criminal investigation of apparently-no-longer-quite-so-crooked Hillary Clinton. It’s funny and it’s not funny when Kellyanne Conway says Trump wants to give Clinton a chance to heal (as opposed to, say, Mitt Romney, whom Trump has fully brought to heel, but that’s another story).
In America when it’s great, presidents don’t decide which people to prosecute, but it’s no surprise that this little nuance escapes Trump, who had pledged in a debate to instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton — in other words, threatening, in banana republic style, to lock up his opponent.
It was wrong then. It’s wrong now. But I’m certain prospective attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was a leader in the lock-her-up camp, will happily go along.
The Sessions nomination is funny, too, in a funny/ironic kind of way. Sessions, who was turned down for a federal judgeship by a Republican Senate in 1986 for problems with his racist past, is now on the verge of being confirmed by a Republican Senate to be, among things, leader of the department that identifies and prosecutes civil rights violations. This is, of course, a travesty and a terribly wrong turn in that long arc of justice we’re always hearing about. And yet, before Sessions’ nomination even comes to a vote, Trump has already cut him off at the knees. Do white knees matter?
And there we are. The big question now for those in the anti-Trump or neverTrump camp is what to do. Poking fun at Trump’s pre-pardon pardon is one answer, but probably not the answer.
But what is?
Some Democrats hope to trap Trump by calling his bluff on Trump’s populist-inspired infrastructure gambit. Any bets on how this will work? You’ve seen Chuck Schumer lean this way, and, briefly, even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Trump’s infrastructure plan is, of course, not populist at all and a boon for developers. But what if Trump, the deal-maker, comes up with a compromise bill — real infrastructure that government pays for — that Democrats can accept?
Should they accept it, even if it would help Trump in the mid-terms, even if it would help him get re-elected?
Or should they refuse, on principle, to deal with a bigoted, misogynist demagogue who appoints alt-right icon Steve Bannon to be his White House adviser, who condemns the cast of “Hamilton” for the mildest form of free speech but has nothing to say of the Neo-Nazis who gathered in Washington to celebrate Trump’s victory, who seems to be conducting his private business while in discussion with world leaders, whose foundation just apparently admitted to so-called “self-dealing,” whose family involvement is making up whole new areas of conflict-of-interest law?
If the Trump critics do refuse to go along with Trump at all, how do they separate that from McConnell-style obstructionism? Yes, McConnell was obstructing your normal mainstream liberal president whereas liberals would be obstructing the most dangerous person ever elected president, but can anyone effectively make that distinction? Maybe the real danger here is in calling out Trump too soon. If Trump’s critics are seen as overreacting, the argument goes, why would anyone believe them when the time to act inevitably arrives?
Ezra Klein makes an interesting argument in Vox. Given that Clinton will probably win the popular vote by as many as 2.5 million votes — by nearly as many as Barack Obama beat Romney — and that Democrats outpolled Republicans in Senate races even though GOP will hold a likely 52-48 lead, Democrats should act not as a minority, but as the opposition party. They should remind everyone, he writes, that Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections and therefore must be heard.
But as Trump wished he had said, winning is everything. Democrats and the neverTrumpists had 18 months to make Klein’s argument, and yet the undemocratically-inclined Trump has clearly won by the standards we’ve chosen with the undemocratically-inclined Electoral College.
And so, the next argument – actually, concern – is that the press will normalize Trump as just another, if slightly weirder, version of a president. Actually, that is a sure bet. Cable TV news is in search of one thing — and it’s not truth. We’ve already seen Trump call in the TV execs and anchors and lecture them, off the record, on being nicer. Trump mouthpieces like Drudge and the New York Post had the TV execs basically cowering.
The very next day, Trump calls off a scheduled meeting with the “failing” New York Times, saying that the Times wanted to change the terms under which they’d meet. This was apparently a lie, and when the Times called out the lie, the meeting was soon back on, and there would be on-the-record questions, in which Trump says he’s against alt-righters (even if he hires them) and that, legally, presidents can’t have conflicts of interest (which may, in fact, arguably be true).
You’d like to think that could be the start of a trend. And at least he’s meeting with some of the press. Trump, who has yet to hold a post-election news conference, decided instead to discuss his appointments and his plans for his first 100 days in a 2 1/2-minute YouTube post. Yes, really. He didn’t mention the wall. He didn’t mention immigration. He didn’t mention Obamacare. He didn’t mention a Muslim registry or whatever it would be. He didn’t mention a lot of things, like checking whether 1984 is still on your nearby library’s shelves. But, mostly, he didn’t take questions because, it seems, he doesn’t think he has to.
And then there’s this: Because we’re America, and we can’t believe that we would elect someone quite like Trump, we’re assuming that Trump is not actually the Trump we see on TV. And so his favorables are actually starting to climb even as the Trumpian disaster begins to make itself ever more clear. It’s little wonder that no one has any idea what to do next.
Photo credit: Navin75, Creative Commons, Flickr