Hey, remember that time Donald Trump revealed classified intelligence from an American ally to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office?
You probably don’t, and who can blame you? It happened nearly nine months ago, on March 23rd, and nine months is an eternity with this administration. But the amount of time that’s passed is not the only reason you’ve put that incident out of your mind. There is a limit to how much we can focus on at once – and under Trump, the news cycles come at us so quickly and in such quantity that no single issue stays at the forefront for very long. A story about the president mishandling classified information – wasn’t he accusing his opponent of that during the election? – and jeopardising the relationship we have with allied countries is a big deal. It demands attention. Yet now it is just one of a mountain of scandals, mishaps and inanities that have piled up so high that focusing on any single event becomes a challenge.
Trump is like an assembly linethat cranks out new feuds, crises and headlines. If it’s not classified info, it’s Charlottesville. Or North Korea. Or kneeling NFL players. Or trade with China. Or terrorism. Or racist tweets about terrorism. Or the wall. Or Iran. Or repealing Obamacare. Or feuding on Twitter like a hyperactive teenager. Nothing gets the attention it would in calmer times, because every day brings several new “What the hell is happening?” moments.
Though he probably doesn’t realise it, Trump benefits from doing so many bizarre and ridiculous things that they steal attention from each other. In many cases, the most egregious things he says are conveniently timed to take attention away from more serious issues – see his recent “Pocahontas” comments overshadowing debate about the tax bill in Congress or the controversy over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trump has flummoxed academics, journalists and commentators attempting to fit him into the historical context of the presidency. Collectively, we appear unable to decide if Trump is some kind of strategic mastermind or so random and impulsive that even he doesn’t know what he will say or do next.
But if this year is any indication, there is no multidimensional chess strategy playing out in his head. Looking at the Trump presidency day by day shows no strategy or plan of any kind. It looks on paper exactly how it has felt to live through: one crisis after another, with little time for rest or reflection. It is a car that is constantly veering off the road, and we have to fight so hard to keep from going over the edge that it’s not easy to remember where we’ve been.
To illustrate that point, below are just some of the embarrassing, incomprehensible or flat-out stupid things from the first ten months of the Trump presidency that received a great deal of attention, but only for a very short time. This list may seem long, but it’s only the barest sketch of the edifice of madness we now inhabit; a comprehensive one would be the size of a phone book. (Many thanks to TrumpWatch for helping me on this journey.)
January 24th: Trump declares he lost the popular vote because of undocumented immigrants voting, then promises to waste huge amounts of time and money investigating this nonexistent problem.
February 1st: He seems to refer to Frederick Douglass as a living person in his Black History Month comments.
February 2nd: Kellyanne Conway encourages viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s shitty clothing line during an interview, possibly violating federal ethics rules.
February 4th: Trump throws a tantrum directed at a “so-called judge” over the enforcement of his travel ban. He goes on to declare “the court system” a “threat to national security.”
February 12th: He conducts sensitive nuclear diplomacy with the Japanese prime minister (in response to a North Korean missile launch) in the open at his golf resort where his rich friends can see him.
February 27th: “Nobody knew health care is so complicated.” Note: Literally everyone knows.
March 4th: He accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping him. Spoiler: He didn’t.
March 4th: Trump starts a Twitter feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger over ratings for The Apprentice. Arnold proposes they switch jobs. There is a momentary glimmer of hope that Trump might say yes.
March 16th: The president proposes cutting federal funding for Meals on Wheels. Why? Because fuck ‘em, that’s why!
March 22nd: He says “most people” don’t know Lincoln was a Republican. Note: Literally everyone knows.
March 23rd: Trump reveals classified intel from an ally (Israel) to the Russian foreign minister during a private meeting. Nothing to see here!
April 12th: He announces missile strikes in Syria by bragging that he ate the most beautiful chocolate cake.
April 14th: He drops a really, really big bomb on Afghanistan. Nothing is accomplished, unless you count giving every Duck Dynasty fan in the country an erection.
April 26th: He announces that the U.S. will withdraw from NAFTA, then reverses that decision when he learns what withdrawing from NAFTA would mean.
April 26th: Trump says he’s considering “breaking up” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
April 27th: He says he thought being president would be easy – and seems surprised that it isn’t.
May 1st: He claims Andrew Jackson would have stopped the Civil War, which occurred 16 years after his death.
May 11th: He threatens to leak audio recordings of conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, then admits they do not exist.
May 23rd: Signs the Book of Remembrance at Yad Vashem as if it is a high school yearbook, calling it “amazing,” because that is one of the six adjectives he knows.
May 26th: Trump shoves the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get into a picture.
May 31st: Covfefe.
June 1st: He withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement to spite our European allies.
June 1st: Henchman Mick Mulvaney releases a budget with a $2 trillion error in it. Mulvaney is now heading an important regulatory agency.
June 4th: Trump responds to a terror attack in London by attacking London’s Muslim mayor.
June 27th: Five Trump properties are found to be displaying a fake Time magazine cover depicting him.
July 19th: Trump’s “dems scream death” tweet initiates a race to claim the phrase among the worst hardcore bands in central Pennsylvania.
July 24th: In prepared remarks following testimony before the Senate, Jared Kushner finally reveals his elven, flute-like voice to the world. Aww!
July 26th: Trump bans transgender people from the military based on supposed recommendations from “military experts.”
July 27th: He brags to a gathering of Boy Scouts that having a yacht will really get you laid a ton.
July 27th: He encourages police to be “rough” and “not as nice” when arresting people.
July 29th: The nation awakens to a non-sequitur presidential tweet mocking TV host Mika Brzezinski for allegedly having plastic surgery and everyone just shrugs because this is normal now.
July 31st: Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci is fired ten days into his job as communications director, answering the question of whether a fourth-rate Sopranos extra could succeed as communications director.
August 4th: Leaked transcripts of phone conversations with foreign leaders, including Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, demonstrate that Trump is as incoherent in private as he is in public.
August 15th:Trump tweets a sophomoric video of a train hitting CNN days after a neo-Nazi ran over a protester with a car, killing her. Later the same day, he uses the phrase “very fine people on both sides” to describe neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
September 5th: Trump tries to backtrack when he discovers what the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program actually does.
September 12th: Ted Cruz’s Twitter account likes some porn – not Trump-related, but pretty great.
September 26th: After Luther Strange, who Trump endorsed, loses a special election, Trump deletes all mentions of Strange from his Twitter feed, not realizing that the Internet is forever.
October 23rd: Tired of feuding with Bob Corker and other senators in his own party, Trump picks a fight with a war widow.
Anyone else feel the anxiety build as you read through the list? I find myself googling “horse tranquillisers online free shipping” by the end.
And this is just the relatively minorstuff. It doesn’t include inciting nuclear war with North Korea or threatening to sic the Justice Department on private citizens – or the cronies, hangers-on and bag men Trump has appointed to positions of power. Or that Supreme Court justice we’ll have to live with for the next 40 years.
Taxes on liquor are likely to be rolled back by Congress in the near future, and not a moment too soon. If this is “winning,” then, to paraphrase Plutarch, another year of winning such as this one and we are done for.