My theory to explain the daily, careening, out of control behavior of Donald Trump in the White House is that he hates the job he has been selected to do, even if losing the popular vote, and therefore refuses to come out of his campaign posture of hurling insults and wildly false accusations, in order to accept the role of his high office and act accordingly.
True, George W. Bush, in sharply attacking Trump for his racist rants, has noted that Trump has found “power addicting.” While that may be true, all daily accounts of Trump in the White House paint a portrait of a man bored with meetings about specific policy, in which he spends the time glancing at himself on television, disinterested in begging members of Congress for their votes, particularly on the abolition of the Affordable Care Act, and not even playing a role in the one major piece of legislation of his year long presidency, the massive tax cut for the rich and the robbing of middle class tax deductions. They also paint the picture of a man yelling and screaming and blaming everybody under the sun for every issue, a sort of half sane George the III, the English King who never recovered from the haunting impact of his soldiers being literally eaten alive by wolves at the battle of Saratoga.
Part of the reason may be that his political instincts, or those of someone advising him, are a lot more sophisticated than his knowledge of government, another reason he has ordered his White House lawyers to find the legal limits in which he can push his executive powers within each department to get around the standard rules and separation between presidential powers and protected government bureaucrats.
He seems to know instinctively what the limits of his extremism are: he can’t touch Social Security, Medicare, or the 401 K plans of American workers. In the 2016 campaign he also took advantage of the ambiguity Americans feel for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our relationship with Russia after the end of the Cold War. And who would have thunk that the Republican Trump could so thoroughly smear the war record of Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured for five years in a Vietnamese prison, with such impunity?
In fairness to Trump, he walked onto an empty political stage, because his fellow Republicans had successfully waged a scorched earth policy against preceding Democratic Presidents to deny them any significant domestic achievements, and neither Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, nor Barak Obama articulated any long term program to replace the lost jobs of the industrial age with new industries of some kind, particularly in the rural regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. That Trump more or less got elected on promising to save 299 jobs in Indiana seems laughable, since he was not trying to become the Prime Minister of Ireland where that number may have been significant, but his Democratic opponent was not promising anything. Obama had proposed a massive jobs program with infrastructure rebuilding, but that of course got shaved down considerably by Republicans, who thereupon cheered, hypocritically, that it was not big enough to really help the economy.
Never mind that “jobs” has become the political mantra among Republicans and their patrons the Koch Bothers for every issue under the sun whether it impacts employment or not. This special spin regarding jobs for anything has been limited by Trump to the pages of The Wall Street Journal, whose editor he dines with frequently, and whose reporters are given unprecedented access to carry the jobs message in their daily reporting and, of course, the paper’s virulently right wing editorial page.
Yet in commenting last week that he is the first Republican President to urge Social Security and Medicare not be cut (which is not accurate historically but more or less true recently) Trump understands he is insulated politically because the second President Bush attempted to make it “voluntary,” President Obama refused to call for COLA increases during the 2012 debates with Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton shockingly did not make it a campaign issue in 2016.
By all accounts, including his own, Trump expected to lose the 2016 election and was making plans to create a television network in which he could be admired 24/7 by his disciples. Whatever his relationship with the Russian mob, and whether he committed both obstruction of justice or perjury in denying knowledge of the gang of 8 meeting of his family and campaign, Trump shares Hillary Clinton’s belief that FBI Director Comey’s last minute reexamination of her emails won him the election. Indeed Trump has admitted that he was taken aback by the Democratic reaction to the firing of Comey because he thought they would be glad he fired the man who cost them the election. Whether Trump or Republican backers such as the Koch Brothers were complicit in getting House Republicans to pressure Comey to take out Mrs. Clinton with the 11th hour email charade, or paid them somehow, is an issue that is going to linger out there for a long time to come, indeed maybe forever.
George W. Bush may be right that the power has gone to Trump’s head, but if Trump were making his outrageous daily comments on his television network instead of the White House, there would be a lot less need for Trump to pay attention to policy briefings he has no interest in, his legal liability would be far less and their ensuing consequences which at present could include serious jail time would not be present, and the political instability that Trump incites every day around the world would be somebody else’s problem.
After a year in office you would think that the Fuhrer of Fifth Avenue would have backed off of the role of the godly demagogue if it were all an act, but his grudging adherence to the role suggests that the behavior is not an act, and that we are saddled with a true megalomaniac running the world, at least until until his contempt for the law catches up to him.