The presidency of popular vote loser Donald Trump is now one month old. There have been a few hiccups—if hiccups mean mind-bogglingly stupid missteps that demonstrate exactly what an in-over-his-head amateur Trump actually is. By comparison, the Trump Administration thus far has made Wile E. Coyote actually look like the Super Genius he sometimes claims to be.
Other presidents have had problems getting their nominees confirmed by the Senate, although it really is satisfying to watch the implosion of Andy Puzder, a nominee to run the Labor Department who has a record of holding laborers in contempt—the human ones, at least. However, if that had been Trump’s biggest problem, he’d be on par with his predecessors. It wasn’t.
Let’s start with the fact—pun intended—that this president and his surrogates have been caught in so many lies that the media, as Amanda Marcotte explains, is grappling with how to cover them without also amplifying them. We’ve all heard that 1984 is back on the best seller list, but don’t forget the specifics of what that book described: a regime that could proclaim that 2+2=5 and make you believe it. While Trump can’t punish you for not believing the sun was shining when it was actually raining, he certainly has no compunction about proclaiming such a thing—even though you can watch a video that shows otherwise. Having a president that divorced from reality causes real trauma.
The biggest story this week is the one that centers around the resignation of Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn—who found himself out of a job after only 24 days, the shortest tenure by far of any of the 25 people to serve in that position. It is a huge story on many levels, not the least of which is that it provides further evidence of the incompetence of a leader who would give such a sensitive position to a certifiable conspiracy theorist who uttered so many untrue things during his tenure as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency that his colleagues referred to them as “Flynn facts.”
Here are a couple of other things that stand out about this story: First, although the Trump administration says he had to go because he lied and thus had lost the president’s trust, Trump had known about the lies for weeks before actually getting rid of him. As the New York Times reported:
But other aides privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.
Let that sink in for a minute. Second, this is much bigger than Michael Flynn. The Trump team has been in close contact with Russian intelligence officials for months now, including during the campaign. It’s not just Flynn that’s been whispering to Vladimir Putin’s crew.
Despite Trump’s fantasies about his White House running like a “fine-tuned machine,” the reality is that, as of Friday at noon, he still has ten Cabinet spots open—more than any previous president four weeks into his term. Going beyond the numbers, the level of dysfunction has grown so severe that the retired admiral whom Trump tapped to replace Flynn as National Security Advisor turned him down specifically because of that dysfunction, describing the job to a friend as “a shit sandwich.” High-level officers almost never turn down a president asking them to serve, so this is a real indictment of Trump.
As for the president’s press conference on Thursday, CNN’s John King said that a Republican senator texted him the following: “[Trump] should do this with a therapist, not on live television.” That’s Trump Trauma.
Then there's the small matter of conducting a sensitive foreign policy strategy session in “full view of fellow diners” at his Mar-a-Lago resort, rather than, oh, maybe going into another frickin’ room, let alone a truly secure location. Asking whether these guys know what they hell they are doing is a legitimate question.
We’ve reached the point where John McCain said this week: “As far as national security is concerned, this White House is in disarray.” It’s not just politicians. Here’s what Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, who’s only the guy in charge of Special Operations Command, had to say: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.” If that’s what he says out loud, you can imagine what he’s thinking:
Meanwhile, what has the Trump administration actually accomplished? Their Muslim travel ban caused tremendous turmoil and provoked widespread protests, only to be blocked by a unanimous court ruling issued by judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. More incompetence. More trauma. And these are just the worst of the things Trump has done.
As for legislation, he has signed exactly one piece that’s of any significance. It rolls back an Obama-era regulation that forced corporations involved in the oil and mining business to reveal any money they give to other governments. Because that’s how you make America great again.
Now, let’s revisit a different era, one that seems like almost another lifetime—the time when Barack Obama was president of the United States. To be sure, any White House can take time to find its sea legs, so let’s compare Trump not to the President Obama who’d been on the job for a while. Let’s look at what each accomplished in the first month.
First and foremost, the Obama White House wasn’t a chaotic dumpster fire. That may be a low bar to clear, but it’s an important one. Our intelligence officials weren’t afraid to share important information with him because they didn’t trust him with it. To clarify, that appears to be what’s happening with our current president, although the intelligence higher-ups have denied the damning information reported in the Wall Street Journal.
President Obama also signed into law a number of important measures that actually benefited Americans. On his 10th day in office he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which, according to the National Women’s Law Center, has made “a critical difference” for women facing discrimination in how they are paid at work. On his 16th day, he signed an expansion to the Children's Health Insurance Program (once known as S-CHIP) that paid for health insurance coverage for 4 million additional children. And exactly four weeks into his presidency, the stimulus package became law. And those are just the best things Obama did.
Barack Obama wasn’t a perfect president. But what the “No Drama Obama” nickname meant was that he understood the necessity of doing things the right way, of staying focused on what was important, and of having a White House that acted rationally and made decisions based on the facts. The Trump Trauma in which we are now living results from a White House that is out of control, and which operates on the basis of emotion rather than what actually works. What we are seeing with our very eyes is the meaning of the phrase “the fish rots from the head.”
And that’s no joke.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).