Thursday, August 22, 2019


The president seems more unstable than usual these days -- but maybe he's just restless and bored. It's hard to imagine how a president of the United States can experience sustained boredom, but consider what Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman wrote in June in The New York Times:
Unlike nearly every recent modern president who sought re-election, Mr. Trump rarely if ever speaks to aides about what he hopes to accomplish with what would be a hard-won second term; his interest is entirely in the present, and mostly on the crisis of the moment.

... with a limited policy agenda and little interest in governing, Mr. Trump has been running for re-election virtually since the day he won.
Karni and Haberman were trying to explain attitude toward campaigning -- but the point about a "limited policy agenda and little interest in governing" is important. Trump has no long-range plans, and he'll never develop any. He pursues momentary enthusiasms (buying Greenland) and lashes out against irritants (women who challenge him, non-whites who offend him by existing), but he has no big ideas. (All our allies are trying to gyp us doesn't count.)

In response to that Times story, I wrote the following. I was trying to imagine a second Trump term, but I'm beginning to think that Trump's lack of a goal for the future has kicked in already.
So what would he do if he were reelected? We know he can't focus on policy now, except for tariffs and the wall, but would he even care about those anymore if he didn't have another election in the future to motivate him?

He might just stop working altogether. He might limit himself to golf, tweeting, and television -- no trade threats, no immigration crackdowns, no suck-ups to the religious right. If Democrats hold the House he might concentrate on not being impeached, but imagine him after a Republican sweep -- he might turn into Howard Hughes or Elvis, a recluse who barely leaves his bedroom.

I suppose he'd still sign bills and wave them at the cameras. I supposed he'd still pretend he knew something about the judges whose names were spoon-fed to him by the GOP legal establishment. He'd probably still do campaign rallies, even though they'd be campaign rallies without a campaign. But he might completely check out.

Or he might start focusing on inappropriate honors. Where's my Nobel Prize? How do I get on Mount Rushmore? Do I have to be dead before they put me on money?

It could be a bizarre four years.
I think he's at this point now, except that instead of becoming a recluse, he's combating the existential emptiness by saying out loud every crazy thing that pops into his head, or reaches him via Fox or Twitter. (Throughout his presidency, he's repeated whatever he picked up on Fox or Twitter, but now he seems to do nothing else.)

Getting the wall built is hard. Winning a trade war is hard. Getting Kim Jong Un to make serious concessions is hard, especially when you're incapable of focusing on U.S. policy in the region. Passing laws in a divided Congress is hard. Gun control is hard when the base hates it. War is hard. (I'm persuaded that Trump hasn't gone to war in Iran or Venezuela because when he brings up the subject, his generals come to him with plans that are complex and take months and years to unfold, with ongoing risk to U.S. troops for the foreseeable future. Trump doesn't want to hear that. He wants war to go like this: BOOM! I win! I get a parade!)

So what can a president do? Trump is aimless now. He was probably happier when he thought Mueller would get him impeached. It gave him a reason to get up in the morning.

No comments: