We’re watching a presidential movie in which what is presented as fantastic turns into fantasy right before our eyes. It is as if we must pinch ourselves to determine which is real.
The remarkable thing is that all this unraveling is happening virtually in real time, but surely in just the barest moments of political time. At this rate, President Trump’s State of the Union address may just turn to ash even before he finishes his speech.
The argument with his intelligence agency heads was cause for television split screens all day long. On one side, Trump is bragging that ISIS has been eliminated, while on the other, CIA head Gina Haspel was saying there are thousands of ISIS troops in the region and tons of metastasized terrorist cells in place globally. On the left, Trump is saying Iran is out of control militarily; on the right, Haspel is saying the Iranians are technically obeying international treaties. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates fingered Russia as a bad actor just as Trump was offering statements that there is no collusion with Russia. The intelligence chiefs also contradicted Trump on North Korean intentions about denuclearization, right on the cusp of a second summit meeting in Vietnam between a Trump who wants to believe it’s true, and the North Korean leader.
That Trump tweeted that his own appointed intelligence heads were “naïve” and needed “to go back to school” was topped only by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen telling reporters that Trump doesn’t disagree or overrule his intelligence chiefs.
Yesterday, it emerged that Trump indeed had met again with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin at the G-20 meetings in Buenos Aires, without an interpreter, without notes, without public acknowledgment and — without sharing the information with his intelligence agencies. This news came out after Trump and the White House had taken great pains to announced that any meeting with Putin in Buenos Aires was being canceled as the G-20 meetings were happening last month.
Forget what information actually was exchanged. Why, when the president is under investigation about wrong-headed and possibly criminal contacts that his campaign had with Russians, would Trump once again meet alone with Putin and never share the results even with his policymakers.
The breach with intelligence agencies is not just silly, but downright dangerous for the nation. For Trump to insist that he knows better than anyone with whom he disagreed is enough grounds to justify thinking of Trump’s presidency as woefully inadequate.
There has been plenty more, seemingly all in the same day or two, in which the promise turns to wisp.
- In Wisconsin, the much-ballyhooed new investment in manufacturing facilities by Foxconn to build Apple components had suddenly disappeared amid updated business research by that company about how much it would cost to do business in the United States. All this comes about despite $3 billion of dollars of tax advantages given to Foxconn. Fantastic to fantasy, personified. No 13,000 jobs, no investment in manufacturing.
- In Texas, Republican state officials announced that they had found 90,000 voters who had entered the country illegally among voters in recent elections. But even immediate examination found a substantial number of repeat names and a finding that among the first traunch of reviewed folders, most were American citizens. In a word, the charges were a fantasy.
- At Trump properties, the insistence that there were no illegal immigrants among his employees had slipped as a one or two came forward to say that they had used illicit identification to become Trump employees. Now the Trump Organization is acknowledging that it didn’t look very hard at the single issue that has come to dominate the politics of Donald Trump in his own businesses, and now will use the government-recommended e-verify system to vet his own employees. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office plans to take a look at the behaviors to date — not a fantasy.
- In all the talk about Roger Stone, now facing criminal charges for lying to Congress and witness tampering, it came out that on the day Stone had told investigators that he had not been in touch with the witness, the government obtained emails showing at least 30 exchanges with that witness on the very day of denial. This guy is the king of fantasies.
It goes on and on. Hurricane aid is being ended to Puerto Rico, even as folks are still trying to raise money to rebuild the island. Sports teams are still having trouble responding without cursing when they are invited to the White House after winning championships.
And then, in these first days of trying to reopen the government after the month-long furlough of 800,000 federal workers, the president is already sending signals to the congressional conference committee that he is prepared to put employees back on the street if he doesn’t get his way.
For his intelligence advisors, the “emergency” at the border didn’t make the Top 10 actual emergencies facing the nation.
You can believe in the fantastic, or you can recognize the fantasy.