WASHINGTON ― President Donald J. Trump will be in Houston on Tuesday; one vicious hurricane surveying the damage of another.
Hurricane Harvey has devastated the Gulf Coast as few storms have done in recent decades, spreading fear and paralyzing the nation’s fourth-largest city with winds and floodwaters.
With tweets, meetings, disaster orders and vows of vigilant relief efforts, Trump is suggesting that he is a source of stability and community, and that laws, governments and public officials exist for the good of all, especially the most vulnerable in American society.
It is going to be a hard sell. In his first eight months in office, Trump has been a human hurricane, wreaking havoc on every institution and tradition of law and political order he can. And when he isn’t destroying things in real time, fresh details of his pre-presidential dealings further undermine his attempts to project an image of leadership.
Consider the latest, per The Washington Post: Trump’s would-be partner in a would-be Moscow tower was a Russian/Brooklyn enforcer who once stabbed a guy with a broken margarita glass.
Any pretense that the Trump administration is about anything but maintaining power is gone ― even as it seems more in peril by the day.
With the departure of Sebastian Gorka, nearly the entire cast of characters in the original administration are gone: Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, etc. Say what you will about that crew; at least they had ostensible roles and a purpose: “Establishment” Republicans would get deals done, “nationalists” would give a populist, anti-corporate, anti-elitist philosophical underpinning to Trump’s rage.
Not that there ever was any credible pretense ― let alone reality ― of high-mindedness to all this, but what we are reduced to now is the grim nub of Trump: lawlessness, racism, authoritarianism, resentment, brutality, venality and a blind desire to dismantle everything in the way of the one thing he wants and understands ― his own survival.
Trump’s pardoning of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is a message not only to his white far-right followers and to U.S. Latinos, but to witnesses whose cooperation (or silence) he needs (think Flynn, Paul Manafort and many others) and above all, to the very rule of law, which Arpaio flouted and for which Trump has never shown anything but contempt.
A lawless president begets a lawless nation.
Charlottesville and Berkeley are just the start of the fighting in the streets. Trump is planning to once again allow the Pentagon to sell military gear to local police, all the better to inflame every situation with tanks, armored personnel carriers and the like. He may dismantle the DACA program, sending undocumented Dreamers under cover and further unleashing immigration agents on the hunt.
Shut down the government so that he can get money to build his border wall? Why not?
A federal court order ― the one that Arpaio was found in contempt of ― means nothing to the president. Why assume that any other court order, or any act of Congress, would mean more? Trump’s disdain for the Hill leaders of even his own party grows by the minute, and he has committed too many outrageous acts for even the most craven Democrat to seek common cause with him on virtually anything.
If Trump thinks he must defy special counsel Robert Mueller, he will try. If he thinks he must fire Mueller, he will try. If he must force an impeachment trial in the Senate, he will. If he thinks he can replace shaky GOP votes there with solid ones (in, say, Arizona and Alabama), he will try.
In the meantime, alleged wise persons in Washington count on what essentially amounts to a military junta ― the Four Horsemen of John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson ― to “rein in” the president. But just because they were able to oust Bannon & Co. does not mean they can control Trump at any given moment on any given topic.
And so onward to Texas and the Gulf, where Trump will promise Houston deliverance from the storm. American politics and government, in the meantime, are forecast to be at flood stage for the indefinite future.