During the weeks between the November 2016 election and Inauguration Day, many self-assigned members of the commentariat were quite certain that this wasn’t going to be so bad. We were reassured that Campaign Trump was an act, the antics of a born showman; President Trump would grow into the office. He would be shrewd and businesslike, or at the very least like an adult with object permanence and rudimentary impulse control. He would surround himself with the very best people and put them in charge. As the first few months of his presidency unfolded . . . well, the script needed a few tweaks. The new line was, OK, he’s still a braying ass, but give the poor guy a chance! He’ll get the hang of it soon! We were promised any number of “pivots” and moments at which the obviously narcissistic con man would “become president.” Lo, the oracle was once again mistaken.
In fairness to the poor souls who made these terrible predictions, everything that has happened during the Trump presidency was only foreseeable by anybody who thought about it for any amount of time at all.
The true narrative of all 446 days of this Dadaist exhibition is this: Republicans in the House and Senate can stop this.
The storyline for the pundit-apologist class has since undergone two more substantial shifts and now stands on the verge of a third. Among Trump supporters, of course, the narrative has never changed, nor will it ever: the great man is beset on all sides by enemies. But for certain Serious People who get paid to make excuses for Trump at arm’s length (lest the creative class disown them and take away their New York Times column) the story is stuck in development hell where it receives more or less daily rewrites.
First, Trump was going to grow into the job. Then he obviously wasn’t going to grow into the job, but he was going to be “controlled” by stern-looking Generals James Mattis and John Kelly. Then, he was neither controllable nor growing into the job, but he was nonetheless worthy of House and Senate GOP protection because, hey, think of federal judgeships and rapacious tax cuts and other things the right has always dreamed of. For the corrupt and the deranged, the decision to ignore Trump, to treat him as a repugnant, illiterate Bartleby, has had its perks: he has reliably checked off items on their sickening wish lists.
But the past three days—during the fallout from the FBI’s raid of the office and hotel of Michael Cohen, “ultimate Trump loyalist”—have made this approach untenable. In just that short time frame Trump has gone full Louis XIV by conflating an investigation of his wrongdoing with an attack on the state. He has described the execution by his own appointees of a lawful search warrant as a burglary. And he has argued that conversations—those he has spent months insisting (through surrogates, like Hope Hicks) never happened—are in fact retroactively covered by attorney-client privilege.
Looks like nothing matters anymore, kids. Go ahead and eat the fucking Tide pods. Why not.
Still, the narrative is important, as it does much to shape what the collective “we” might learn from our experiences. It appears that in the very near future it will be impossible to pretend any longer that this is normal and fine. They—Trump’s Republican lackeys—will try their usual tactic of blaming predictable targets for a while, but when the jig is well and truly up with this family of stunningly uncharismatic kleptocrats, that’s when the most dangerous narrative will be deployed. You may remember seeing it around 2006 when it became impossible to continue pretending that the invasion of Iraq was a success: OK, this was a disaster, but no one could have foreseen it.
To describe that as disingenuous would be an understatement, of course. Everything happening now was almost comically predictable. But some day in the future, whenever the curtain finally falls on this farce, the usual suspects will line up to declare that all involved acted in good faith and no one could have imagined the results would be such a disaster.
It’s a lie. The true narrative of all 446 days of this Dadaist exhibition is this: Republicans in the House and Senate can stop this. They can stop this and they choose not to. It takes little imagination to see that the more Trump is isolated and cornered, the closer we drift toward a disaster orders of magnitude greater than the damage already inflicted. We don’t have to play the entire tape to find out what happens: a petulant war, a serious lurch toward semi-authoritarian rule or worse, civil unrest, you name it. In any country in which The Leader’s bad moods are breaking news, the line between wild-eyed predictions and likely chains of events blurs perilously.
Playing out this tragicomedy to its conclusion is not inevitable. What is inevitable is the mendacious spin that lies ahead. Hands will be wrung and garments rent as the thought leaders line up to declare that, yes, a great tragedy has befallen us but no one could have predicted it. Now and in the future, repeat and remember the truth: the opportunity to put an end to this lunatic experiment exists and is being ignored.