It was just four months ago when President Donald Trump confessed to NBC’s Lester Holt that he had fired FBI Director James Comey in order to thwart the investigation into the ongoing Russian attack on our democracy, thus appearing to confess to what could easily be construed as criminal obstruction of justice.
It was three months ago when Trump launched into yet another Twitter conniption fit, accusing “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski of “bleeding badly from a facelift.” A few days later, he appeared to incite violence against the press by posting an animated GIF of himself body-slamming the CNN logo.
Several days after that, on July 11, we learned that members of Trump’s campaign inner circle, including his son, Donald Jr., met with alleged Russian operatives in hopes of acquiring damaging intelligence on Hillary Clinton. The meeting confirmed at least one instance of intended campaign collusion, and, in the wake of these startling revelations, Don Jr. confessed by releasing the email conversation about the meeting. In late July, Trump hired and then fired Anthony Scaramucci under a storm of controversy. Likewise, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus resigned. Meanwhile, Trump turned an address to a Boy Scout jamboree into a bizarre rant that included a joke about an apparent orgy.
Amid all that, congressional Republicans failed to pass even the "skinniest" version of an Obamacare repeal bill, while reports of Trump’s apparent ignorance and lack of engagement on the health care issue circulated through the news media. A few days after that, we learned that Trump personally dictated an elaborately false statement in Donald Jr.’s name regarding his son’s meeting with the Russians.
In early August, Trump risked nuclear war over a statement seemingly delivered on a whim, warning North Korea that its military threats would be met with “fire and fury, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” North Korea called his bluff and continued to conduct routine nuclear tests.
And then there was Charlottesville. In response to a terror attack perpetrated by a neo-Nazi that claimed the life of Heather Heyer, Trump insisted there had been violence “on many sides -- on many sides.” A few days after that, Trump reiterated his sympathy for Nazis, Klan members and white supremacists, saying there were “very fine people” among the assembled pro-Confederate protesters. In addition to a swift backlash from both Republicans and Democrats, members of several of Trump’s advisory boards quit in protest, effectively disbanding those panels.
These were just the most notable and mind-blowing events during Trump’s first and hopefully last summer in office. For the sake of brevity, I didn’t include many of the blindingly insane Trump tweets we witnessed throughout the warm-weather months, nor did I include the screechy, obnoxious, undignified and disturbing remarks from his public rallies. Ultimately, we only really needed to mention the three most shocking events -- the firing of Comey and Trump’s subsequent confession, the Don Jr. meeting with Russians and Trump’s Nazi sympathies post-Charlottesville -- in order to make the following point.
Despite countless incidents in which Trump has behaved with contempt for ordinary human decency and has shown no respect for the decorum of his office -- and, in some cases, in which Trump may have acted illegally -- certain members of the press and cable news punditry continue to give him chance after chance after chance, desperately attempting to treat Trump like a normal president in the face of overwhelming evidence that he is no such thing and never will be.
It’s an ongoing syndrome that predates the summer and predates Election Day, obviously. But now that we have a solid sense of Trump’s historic mendacity, incompetence, ignorance and corruption as president, the struggle to normalize him has grown exponentially more infuriating than it was even a year ago. Even as of last September, though, Trump had already smeared a Gold Star family, impugned a war hero, mocked a disabled reporter, attacked a female news anchor for apparently “bleeding from her whatever,” and so on and so on.
Somehow, that group of reporters and pundits keeps inventing reasons to treat Trump like any other president. Yes, we’re here again. Why? Clearly because it keeps happening. Over the weekend, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Associated Press published items in which Trump was treated like a McCain-style maverick, using complimentary language to describe the president’s knee-jerk deal with congressional Democrats on the debt ceiling.
On his Twitter feed, The Washington Post’s Robert Costa linked an article co-written by serial normalizer Philip Rucker in which the president is described as “freewheeling.” Costa, who’s an otherwise strong journalist, added that Trump isn’t “a Democrat or a Republican. He's a freewheeling, transactional pol who looks for wins.” This makes Trump sound like a confetti-addicted Rip Taylor, if Rip Taylor had been nominated for an Oscar. By the way, he’s absolutely a Republican. Full stop. Elsewhere, The New York Times’ Peter Baker favorably quoted Trump’s description of himself as “the Lone Ranger” and added that he’s “the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system.” And the Associated Press described Trump as an “independent” and “a different kind of president.”
All told, this is not unlike suggesting that the unstable and power-mad Kim Jong-un is a “smart cookie.” Or that a serial killer has excellent taste in power tools. Or that a physically abusive husband is occasionally Mike Brady-esque. It completely sidesteps the endlessly updated scoreboard of Trump’s vast inadequacies and harrowing destructiveness, telegraphing to readers the notion that Trump is redeemable -- that we can occasionally see friendly Anakin Skywalker under the Darth Vader mask, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Not only did Trump crap all over the benefit of the doubt years ago, but there’s no valid explanation for overlooking all of the terrible things he’s said and done.
The latest round of atta-boy! normalizing of Trump is based on one event in which the president derped his way into an ever-deepening quicksand pit. As we discussed last week, Trump didn’t have any sort of master plan when he spontaneously cut a debt-ceiling deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Indeed, he screwed himself by embarrassing the leadership of his own party for the sake of his disruption fetish.
This impulsive bargain wasn’t part of any grand strategy. It didn’t reveal Trump’s true nature as some sort of fancy-free champion of nonpartisanship, nor did it reveal a Machiavellian three-dimensional chess genius. The deal was all about Trump being woefully out of his depth on the political stage. It was an act of political incompetence. Sure, it favored the good guys -- this time. But it really doesn’t matter, because the Trump we’ve always known is still there: a ghoul who basks in the misery of others, be they Dreamers, transgender service members, women who would rather not be sexually assaulted or anyone who cherishes Western democracy minus Russian manipulation.
Oh, but wait. He didn’t entirely screw millions of Americans this time, so he must be a “new kind of president” and a “freewheeling” whatever. The copy-and-paste ridiculousness is incomprehensible. Yes, we all wish Trump was a normal politician. We all wish he’d stop destroying America’s reputation, piece by piece. But he won’t. Trump will always be “Access Hollywood” Trump.
No matter how aggressively White House chief of staff John Kelly might be tightening the president’s straitjacket, there’s a reason why Trump needs one in the first place, and it should be abundantly obvious to anyone who is halfway paying attention. Trump is a berserker president who’s capable of myriad horrors; he needs to be contained or else.
Despite what you might be reading, that containment is not admirable and does not indicate any "pivot" toward decency and presidential conduct. It’s mandatory for the sake of the republic -- and even then, John Kelly’s resistance is futile. We’re talking about a matter of time, perhaps minutes, before Trump’s dark passenger bursts forth again, and who knows how many people will be hit with the ensuing blood spatter. And then the reporters and pundits attempting to normalize him will merely sit tight, waiting for the next occasion to recycle their same old bullshit takes about Trump’s allegedly unconventional leadership.
For God’s sake, this guy sympathized with Nazis and admitted to trying to shut down an FBI inquiry into his own actions! Isn’t that enough to bury the glad-handing once and for all?