Chaos President

President Donald Trump threatens his political opponents at a rally march 28. 2019, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We always knew it, but President Donald Trump’s behavior this past week proves, again, that he thrives on chaos. When most people expected the president to continue basking in the glow of his — very partial — exoneration in the Barr summary of the Mueller report, Trump pivoted instead to threatening his opponents and raising divisive issues. Trump always has been a sore loser; now, it turns out, he is a sore winner as well, never accepting any victory graciously. Instead, Trump feels compelled to eviscerate his opponents and confound his supporters.

Many a savvy politician would have spent the past week saying something like this: “Special counsel Robert Mueller says there was no collusion. So, now is the time for the nation to come together, Republicans and Democrats, and accept his findings and move on to do the work of the American people. I want to start with proposals that should get bipartisan support, attacking the opioid crisis, which knows no geographical or political boundaries, fixing our broken infrastructure, and curbing the price of prescription drugs. I call on all Americans to work with me.” Trump even gave a hint that he understood this script, tweeting that while he believed Democrats would continue to “harass” him, “maybe we should just take our victory and say NO, we’ve got a Country to run!”

California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff

But, that, in the end, is not Donald Trump. Graciousness and conciliation are not in his DNA. Instead of a call for national unity, Trump immediately went after his opponents. The day after the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary, Trump accused those who called for the special counsel investigation of “treasonous things,” indicating they “will certainly be looked at.” He added, “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.” One of those “people” who Trump attacked was “little pencil-neck” California Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who, Trump tweeted, “spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, [and] should be forced to resign from Congress!” And, of course Trump renewed his assault on the media as “the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!”

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro

Other Republicans echoed the president. Sycophantic South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and frequent Trump golfing buddy, says the Judiciary Committee will investigate the investigators, looking into the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier and the Justice Department’s conduct of the Russia investigation. Really, senator, investigate officials for doing their job? The ever-loyal White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that members of the media and Democrats who accused Trump of conspiring with Russia are guilty of “treason, which is punishable by death in this country.” Really, Ms. Sanders? You want to execute Trump’s opponents? Is this where we are as a country? And, finally Fox News host Jeanine Pirro launched a tirade in which she demanded the government “make an example of the traitorous, treasonous group that accused Donald Trump of being an agent of the Russian government.” One of her guests was Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who praised Pirro as a “crusader for justice.” Pirro has proved herself a bigot who has no boundaries (exhibit A: Her Islamophobic attack on Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for wearing a hijab), but Giuliani, a former district attorney, should know better. 

But, it was not only attacks on perceived enemies that engaged the president and gave evidence of chaos. Following release of the Barr letter, Trump launched several divisive policy proposals opposed not only by Democrats but even some Republicans. The latter particularly have a hard time with Trump’s renewed attempt to overturn Obamacare. The administration began last Monday by calling for the courts to strike down the healthcare law. Administration defenders claim Trump, who vows to make the GOP the party of healthcare, has a replacement plan. “We’ve been working on a plan for a long time,” said White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “We’ll try to fix it ourselves.” This is news to congressional Republicans who say no repeal-and-replace plan is in the works. Congressional Republican leaders and backbenchers do not want to have anything to do with repealing Obamacare, correctly interpreting GOP losses in the 2018 midterms as a rebuke of the party’s position on the Affordable Care Act. 

Traffic at the border between Texas and Mexico.

Then, there is Trump’s quixotic threat to close the border to prevent spurious caravans of migrants seeking the right to request asylum from entering the United States. Sealing the border with Mexico means closing ports of entry. It does nothing to prevent anyone from crossing illegally. In fact, it probably encourages those who wish to make a legal asylum request to try to enter illegally.  And, closing the border would have a disastrous economic impact, causing prices to rise, especially on groceries initially, and then on other products such as automobiles. It would engender numerous lawsuits against the federal government, and more than half the U.S. population probably would oppose such a move. At the same time, Trump wants to end aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants come. Cutting off assistance would only encourage others to migrate due to increased economic hardship, a fact lost on the president and his supporters. 

All of this sows the chaos upon which Trump thrives. Whether all of it appeals to his base is another question. Closing the border will, of course, but killing Obamacare may hurt many of his supporters who rely on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace for their health insurance. Of course, Obamacare is likely to survive, so Trump gets the chaos without the ill effect of his supporters losing health insurance. In fact, Trump lives for those political moments when he can right a wrong he caused. The most recent instance of this was his “saving” last week of funding for the Special Olympics, a problem caused by the unveiling of his heartless budget. The money for this program was minuscule in the scope of the massive national budget, and Trump probably did not know it had been cut. But, axing the Special Olympics was in line with his budgetary cruelty, and he waited several days, letting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos take intense heat for the decision, before riding to the rescue and throwing her under the bus in the process.

Chaos is Trump’s modus operandi. It also serves to deflect attention from the details of the Mueller report, which may yet prove damaging to the president and his political future. When the report becomes public, those details may lead to even more chaos. Is chaos any way to run a country?

Posted April 2, 2019

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