Tonight’s Give Me Some Money speech:
Trump shut the government down in an impulsive fit, failing to anticipate either the pain the shutdown would create nor any strategy for escaping it. Typically, shutdowns create a political backlash against either the party that is refusing to reopen government absent some political demand (because they’re the ones who won’t simply restore the status quo ante) or the president (because Americans tend to hold presidents accountable.) In this case, those are both the same person. Indeed, Trump closed off any chance of winning the debate at the outset by claiming responsibility for the shutdown and even promising not to blame it on his opponents.
In lieu of any leverage, Trump could only assert, “I have invited congressional leadership to the White House to get this done.” He repeated the last three words slowly for emphasis, but it will only serve to underscore his own impotence.
The apparent logic of his speech was that the force of presidential rhetoric would rally the public to his side. But Trump could not even maintain the appearance of believing such a fanciful story. In an astonishing comment to reporters beforehand, the president confessed he didn’t want to give the speech or take a planned trip to the border. “It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” he said, adding that “these people behind you” – pointing to his communications staffers – “say it’s worth it.”
It’s unlikely even a highly, articulate popular president advocating a popular could escape the mess Trump has created for himself. Trump is none of these things.
Trump is both a big celebrity and purportedly very rich (the latter “fact” is of course highly questionable, but it’s widely believed, which is what counts for these purposes). Those two things make it difficult for even his opponents to accept that perhaps the key fact about him is that he is an idiot.
He has an instinctual talent for grifting, but that’s it. And it’s not that he isn’t an intellectual — plenty of smart people aren’t — it’s that he’s really stupid. Historically speaking, this is a far from unique situation: After all, many systems have survived, at least for a time, being ruled by the imbecile descendants of the great and the good. But the fact that it’s possible to survive being ruled by a complete idiot is not a recommendation for giving it a try, even for a short period, especially when the regime in question has the military firepower to blow up the world several times over.
Recognizing what that simple fact says about the structure of American politics and culture is something that generates too much cognitive dissonance. So everybody represses it, to a greater or lesser extent. I certainly do, because otherwise it would be difficult to function. So we all pretend, if only to deal with this nightmare from which we are trying to awake.