The other day Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained why Republicans are having such trouble with health care. Speaking at a town hall during the July 4 recess, Toomey said, “I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t. So we didn’t expect to be in this situation.”
President Trump delivered one of the most important speeches of his young presidency on Thursday. Billed as “Remarks to the people of Poland,” the address was as clear a statement as we have heard of Trump’s nation-state populism. This philosophy, which differs in emphasis and approach from that of other post-Cold War Republican presidents, is both enduring and undefined.
Events are turning me into a radical skeptic. I no longer believe what I read, unless what I am reading is an empirically verifiable account of the past. I no longer have confidence in polls, because it has become impossible to separate the signal from the noise. What I have heard from the media and political class over the last several years has been so spectacularly proven wrong by events, again and again, that I sometimes wonder why I continue to read two newspapers a day before spending time following journalists on Twitter. Habit, I guess. A sense of professional obligation, I suppose. Maybe boredom.
Jamie Gorelick is a Democratic super-lawyer and former Clinton Justice Department official who made millions of dollars underwriting subprime mortgages at Fannie Mae before leaving the taxpayer-backed mortgage securities firm in 2003. Now she is a partner at WilmerHale, where lawyers charge up to $1,250 an hour and her corner office provides, according to the Washington Post, a “breathtaking” view of the capital. A graduate of Harvard (magna cum laude) and Harvard Law School (cum laude), the 67-year-old Gorelick is a credentialed member of the Washington establishment, of the cognitive elite, even, some might say, of the Deep State.
In 2008 I applied for a journalism fellowship from the Phillips Foundation. The process included an in-person interview with a panel of judges. One of them was the original “Prince of Darkness,” Robert D. Novak. The great reporter examined my resume and noticed I had graduated from Columbia University. He looked at me quizzically.
This morning I drove to work listening to the new Beatles Channel on Sirius XM. When I arrived at the office I read articles about the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars, and about its eighth sequel, which premieres in December, and skimmed a review of a movie based on a show about attractive lifeguards that ran from 1989 to 2001. On Twitter people were joking about potential plotlines for a sequel to Top Gun, from 1986. I listened to cuts from the soundtrack of a Netflix original series devoted to evoking the sensibility of my elementary school years. Before starting this column I looked up from the computer and watched on television President Trump, a man whose campaign slogan evoked past greatness, whose visage has been associated with wealth and success for decades, who was himself a part of the 1980s culture that we continually recycle.
The man can’t help himself. I’m speaking of course of our president, Donald Trump, whose talents at marketing and publicity brought him wealth and fame and, at the age of 70, the highest political office in the nation. Aggressive, flamboyant, unpredictable, and combative, Trump’s impulsivity has benefited him as a businessman and as a candidate, but not as a president. His desire to convey an image of speed and determination has resulted in executive orders stopped by judicial intervention and a legislature that is quarrelsome and confused. His popping off on Twitter creates scandals that should not otherwise exist, and inflames already high tensions in the capital. His firing of FBI Director James Comey, then his changing explanations of the dismissal, birthed an enemy he does not want to have and alienated a staff whose loyalty he needs.
You hear it all the time: President Trump hasn’t been tested, hasn’t faced a real crisis. The events of the last few weeks, however, have made me want to turn that formulation around. Trump doesn’t face crises so much as manufacture them. In a way he is the crisis, and his presidency is in danger of being defined not by any legislative or diplomatic achievement but by his handling of the multiplying and daunting obstacles he creates for himself.
I do not mean that we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Nor are we in a crisis of democracy. Trump was fairly elected, the mechanisms of representative government continue to function, the judiciary and bureaucracy and Congress and media constrain the office of the president.