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Life at the speed of Trump



My plan for this final column of 2018 was something like a Year of Donald Trump in Review, but then, I thought, holy shit, where would one even begin? Remember back in September — just three and a half months ago — when a senior administration official wrote an op-ed in The New York Times confirming that their boss, the president of the United States, is exactly the impulsive, reckless, ill-informed dolt we all suspected? That was the Biggest Scandal Ever ... for like 12 hours, until we all moved on to the next Biggest Scandal Ever (and we never learned who the senior administration official was). We don't even talk about it anymore.

The whole year was like that — one thing piled on another on top of another. Even this last week was no exception: The abrupt Syria pullout and the announced Afghanistan drawdown, Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation, the crashing Dow, Trump's dissolved "charity," the acting attorney general refusing to recuse himself from the Mueller probe, the threatened government shutdown over the border wall (which may or may not be happening as you read this), etc.

Such is life at the speed of Trump. It clouds the memory, pollutes the mind.

So instead of the Year of Trump in Review, which would require an encyclopedia-sized volume to house and an eight-ball of blow to write, I'm going to zoom the lens out and talk about what the last two years of writing and thinking way too much about Trump has taught me about the man, his presidency, and American politics generally — 10 observations that give you a window into how I view the state of things, and thus a prism through which to evaluate whatever wisdom and nonsense flows from my fingertips over the coming year. Cool? Let's go.

1. Just as the senior administration official described, Trump is in over his head, propelled to continue only by the needs of his own ego. Also: Trump isn't trying to distract us; he's just flailing.

2. Even when Trump does something reasonable-sounding — leaving Syria, for instance — be skeptical. He's rash and never thinks through the consequences of his actions; he's incapable of thinking two or three moves ahead. Without people like Mattis and John Kelly around him, this will get worse. Trump will rely more on his instincts, and his instincts are fucking terrible.

3. Everybody who works for Trump knew exactly what they were getting into and deserve no sympathy. Especially that hair-in-a-can white supremacist Stephen Miller.

4. History will probably record Trump as America's worst president. The Republicans who enabled him — Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan — so that they could lavish their wealthy friends with tax cuts should live in ignominy, too.

5. The Beltway media — which treated Ryan as some sort of policy wonk instead of an overgrown frat boy who masturbated to Ayn Rand novels and fantasized about starving the poor, and failed to call out McConnell for eviscerating the Senate's institutional norms in pursuit of power — shares the blame.

6. I don't know if Trump colluded with Russia. But he's surrounded himself with crooks and disreputable lowlifes his entire life, and it sure appears as though he tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. Also: Were he not protected by his office, he'd almost certainly be indicted on campaign finance violations by now.

7. By rights, there's already more than enough information in the public domain to justify Trump's impeachment and removal from office. But impeachment is a political act, and with Republicans in control of the Senate, it's unlikely to happen.

8. Hillary was right: Many of Trump's supporters are "deplorables," motivated by racism or xenophobia. That's why "Brown people are coming!" became Trump's closing argument ahead of the midterms, and why, to some degree, it was effective at rallying his base. But the Democratic wave also showed the limited reach such overtly racist appeals can have, even with the pulls of tribalism and polarization.

9. Trump still has a pretty good chance at being reelected. Despite all of this chaos — and despite his low approval ratings — most incumbents do, especially if the economy is growing. That said, I'd bet against him. The economy is slowing down after nearly a decade of slow but steady growth. And even if the economy is OK, who knows what skeletons the wave of coming House Democratic investigations will turn up, and how Trump will lash out in response. God knows there are bodies waiting to be discovered. Besides that, Trump's shtick is already starting to wear thin, and the Trumpier Trump becomes, the more all but his most die-hard supporters will begin to look for the exits. (Or, at least, I hope so.)

10. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

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