As he marks the end of his first year in office, Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “very stable genius,” stands astride the political world like a cartoon dybbuk, an orange menace of terrifying impulsiveness. With his tweet-spasms spewing venom on adversaries, his reckless fomenting of racial division, his unending lies, and his predilection for vulgar schoolyard taunts, Trump fuels rage and resistance. Already his act is losing whatever appeal it had for his supporters. Even Trump’s closest aides, as Michael Wolff reports in his new book Fire and Fury, doubt that he has the temperament or the capacity to be president. Remarkably, despite a stock market at record heights, unemployment down, wages beginning to rise, low inflation, and ISIS on the run, Trump’s approval ratings remain at record lows.
Trump’s erratic immaturity makes him a constant peril. In the end, however, he is a weak president, more clown than despot. The populist postures that propelled his candidacy—the promise to “drain the swamp,” the critique of “stupid” wars, the pledge to transform our failed trade policies and stop companies from shipping jobs abroad, the vow to revive banking regulations—have been abandoned. He has delegated his national-security policy to the generals, so the Bush-Obama wars continue, with drones and Special Operations forces striking in ever more countries. He has delegated his economic policy to bankers and millionaires, so the doors of the financial casino are being flung open again. The new tax law gives corporations more incentives to move jobs and report profits abroad. These are salad days for the lobbyists that Trump scorned during the campaign. All that is left from those days is Trump’s venom, the juvenile combativeness, and the cancerous politics of racial discord.
Yet Trump doesn’t bear the chief responsibility for the wholesale damage being done to this country. The primary culprit is a radically reactionary Republican Party in control of both Congress and the executive branch. The GOP conference, led by the experienced “adults” Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, was virtually unified in its attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have stripped millions of people of their health insurance in order to roll back taxes on the very wealthy, and in passing the grotesque tax cuts for billionaires. Those “responsible leaders” now intend to use what they term a “historic opportunity” to “reform” entitlements—that is, to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, centerpieces of what little shared security Americans have earned.
Trump’s assault on all things Obama is simply the continuation of the full-scale obstruction organized by McConnell and the GOP Congress when President Obama was in office. The calamitous denial of climate change and the methodical rollback of efforts to address it are Republican doctrine and not unique to Trump. Trump’s cabinet chiefs are drawn from GOP donors and legislators. Their calculated weakening of consumer, worker, environmental, and civil-rights protections—what Steve Bannon touted as the deconstruction of the administrative state—is a core tenet of the modern Republican Party. Trump’s judicial appointments, through which he’s stacked the courts with ultra-right-wing activists, are drawn from the approved lists of the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.