Trump's March to Madness
Ancient Rome had Nero and Caligula, populist emperors who went mad. We have Donald Trump.
The madness of the president is driving away his staffers, would-be lawyers, 27 Republican congressmen, and even the man who is third in line for the presidency. House Speaker Paul Ryan would rather retire than spend another term governing with—and covering for—Trump.
The madness of the president has killed the illusion of those, like Ryan, who imagined that they could harness the president to their own ends. Rather than perpetuate the fantasy of working with the White House, Trump’s one-time apologists are now seeking to distance themselves from the subject of a criminal investigation who has stopped making sense.
Without a firm grasp on reality, the president reaches for whatever soothes his impulses while his allies wonder "WTF?"
Six weeks ago, Trump imposed tariffs on China, launching a trade war that he said would be "easy to win." Now he wants to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral "free trade" deal that lowers tariffs to avoid trade wars.
Two weeks ago, Trump said the United States would be leaving Syria “very soon,” a heretical thought to the Washington foreign policy establishment and to his own advisers. So he dropped his demand for “immediate withdrawal” in favor a six-month schedule.
Then, after an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria, he reversed course and promised to deepen America’s role in the civil war. He declared Russia and Iran were responsible for the attack, and proclaimed there would be a “Big Price” to pay.
When Russia warned it would shoot down any U.S. missiles, Trump responded with a taunt.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice… https://t.co/tFXJAYDnOh— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1523444250
Then, just 40 minutes after threatening Russia, Trump complained that the United States’ relationship with Russia is worse than ever—and for “no reason.” It was if he did not understand that his own statements constitute a part of that relationship.
And 23 hours after that, early on Thursday morning, he changed course again. After saying the U.S. missiles “will be coming,” Trump tweeted the attack might not happen after all—and he demanded praise.
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the Un… https://t.co/drplEtWxNu— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1523528125
It is this last demand—for praise of his indecision and incoherence—that illuminates the full dimensions of Trump’s madness. After taking a series of contradictory position—immediate withdrawal and continuing occupation, attack and no attack—he changed the subject to ISIS and begged for affirmation to ward off his (understandable) feelings of impotence. He can’t decide what to do, therefore the world should thank him.
The inability to distinguish fact from fiction, combined with the inability to delay outrage/gratification, now controls the White House.
According to the Washington Post:
“It’s just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them,” said one West Wing aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen’s office. Oh, my God, we’re going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking.”
That’s because “proactive strategic thinking” requires discipline, a strategy, and, well, thinking, none of which Trump can bring to bear. Instead, he offers reactive, ad hoc impulses, with no pretense of coherence.
In a war zone, Trump’s mentality amounts to madness, which imposes a difficult decision on his supporters. Many former allies are retreating from the battle. No sense in getting killed for the sake of a nut, they say to themselves. But there are still newcomers doubling down on the hope that they can harness Trump to their aims.
So as apologist Paul Ryan prepares to exit Capitol Hill, warmonger John Bolton arrives at the White House. Bolton wants to punish Russia while Trump wants to help Putin's economy. In any other administration, this would be a conflict. In the Trump White House, it's an opportunity. Some flee from madness. Others embrace it.