These are, as they say, early days. And as the nascent Trump era progresses — if that’s the right word — we will continue to see things we’ve never seen or heard before.
For starters, we’ve never heard an inaugural speech like Trump’s American carnage address.
We’ve never seen a counter-inaugural demonstration drawing an astonishing 3 million across the country, many of the protesters wearing pussy hats and many carrying signs about a president keeping his tiny hands off the First Amendment. If you think you were stunned by the turnout — the 100,ooo-marchers-strong aerial shot of Civic Center is a remarkable testament to those Coloradans trying to take their country back — imagine how Trump felt.
We’ve never seen a press secretary, on his first day, ordered by the president to read out a pack of lies about, of all things, crowd size and insist they were true – period. Or see a presidential counselor say the lies were actually “alternative facts.” Or see Orwell cited quite so accurately quite so early in a president’s tenure.
We have seen Trump embarrass himself many times, but never quite as he did, as president, at the CIA, standing in front of the wall honoring the CIA dead, using the occasion to accuse the press of willfully deflating his inauguration numbers and of falsely creating a rift between him and the intelligence agencies that he had compared to Nazis.
We’ve never seen a president, in his first days, hold a meet-and-greet with congressional leaders and tell them the already clearly debunked lie that he had lost the popular vote only because 3 to 5 million illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, who apparently was not smart enough, as several observers have pointed out, to wield these voters in, say, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
He can’t let go — of anything. He can’t move on — from anything. Getting elected isn’t enough. It has to be the greatest election. The most colossal crowds. A global movement. And still that won’t satisfy. We can only imagine what the GOP congressional leaders were thinking – that they have to pretend for four years that this is remotely normal. Remarkably, in the face of Trump’s allegation of massive voter fraud, no one called for an investigation. A better response, of course, would be to call for an intervention.
The conservative Weekly Standard put it this way: “You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.”
But, as I keep saying, it’s worse than that. It’s much worse than that. The lead story in The Washington Post Tuesday tells — from leaks that came from Trump’s inner circle – of a president enraged by what he was watching on TV, the size comparisons (his is smaller; the worst critique) between his inauguration and Obama’s in 2009 and, far worse, between his inauguration and the women’s march. It was the women, of course, who set him off. It was the women’s march, one day later, that had outsized him. Obama drew a controversial red line. Trump gives us a very red face.
And, yes, the women’s march won. Bigly. And if the plan was to make an insecure, narcissistic Trump go mad, the marchers really won. By turning out in such numbers, they got to Trump where he lives. It was the size issue that spawned the Sean Spicer retaliation, the alternative facts declaration, the CIA humiliation. It spawned Trump’s middle school response and Spicer’s Monday press briefing in which he complained that his team – which had just pulled off one of the great election miracles of modern times — was demoralized because the media were reporting that Trump’s movement may not be the greatest the world has ever seen.
Trump response was Nixonian, except without (we hope) the plumbers. He was set into a dark mood by talking heads on CNN and by every women’s marcher’s sign meant to humiliate him. And so, in one of his first presidential acts, he proclaimed his inaugural day, Jan., 20, 2017, to be National Day of Patriotic Devotion. You really can’t make this up.
As the nation and world looked on, as Trump was worried more about bigness than about keeping all those unkeepable Day One promises, the big question for the marchers is what comes next. How do they organize, how do they help bring back white working class voters, how do they embarrass those Trump voters who should have known better, how do they keep the pressure on Trump and on Congress? The questions, I think, sound more daunting than they actually are.
If the worry was that the idea of President Trump was going to be normalized, he’s already taken care of that. If the worry was that the media would go easy on him, he has taken care of that, too. By declaring a never-ending war on the press, he has given them no choice but to return the fire. And so the New York Times now calls a Trump lie a Trump lie in the headline. And on its goes.
There is no worry about the issues, except in Trump’s relationship to them. There will be no shortage of issues to protest. Barack Obama walked off the stage with 60 percent approval ratings. Trump’s campaign was based on erasing as much of Obama’s legacy as possible. The lines are drawn. California has basically declared itself the blue nation in exile. Liberals on one hand and Democratic activists on the other are taking the Republican playbook of challenging whatever Trump does in the courts. Moderate Democrats like Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are baring their anti-Trump teeth.
The answer to what the women’s marchers will do next is easy. They will march. They’ll protest. They’ll organize for the 2018 midterms. And they’ll be energized because they have found in Trump the perfect foil. He will react. He will over-react. He will over-react like no one has ever seen. Believe me.