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A Lame American Presidency

Every crisis in his much-diminished presidency has been Donald Trump’s own fault, a self-inflicted wound. His enemies haven’t landed a serious punch yet, but they haven’t really had to. He’s doing a great job cold-cocking himself with regularity. Eight months in, it’s clear that the one thing President Trump is good at is making trouble for himself. Otherwise, he’s incompetent.

Chris Hayes told Ezra Klein:

I don’t think the president wants to be in charge. I think he wants to sit on his couch and yell at his TV screen and tweet things, but he’s almost happy to be able to kind of get it out of his system and not have anyone listen to him. I think his optimal equilibrium is hectoring Jeff Sessions but Jeff Sessions not quitting, or tweeting out the thing about transgender service members and the military ignoring him, or tweeting out threats to North Korea and not actually changing American posture.

I think that that we have arrived at a new equilibrium in which both the interior members of his staff, the actual federal bureaucracy, the US Congress, the US public, the global public, and global leaders all basically understand the president is fundamentally a bullshit artist and you just shouldn’t listen to what he says.

Klein went on to say that Steve Bannon’s firing is part of a definite trend with this presidency. Whatever else might be said of him, Bannon really believed in Trumpism. And now he’s gone. Klein:

American politics is hurtling toward a very strange place. The president of the United States is clearly unfit for the job, but the good news, to the extent that there is good news, is that everyone around him knows it, and he is willing to be sidelined as long as no one takes away his phone. Whether he is being marginalized by his own administration or choosing to marginalize himself I don’t know, but Bannon’s ouster is another piece of evidence that Trump is interested in Twitter, not Trumpism.

So, who’s left in the White House? Jared and Ivanka. Gen. Kelly. Gen McMaster. Anybody doubt that with Bannon out and the generals having his ear, Trump’s decision on Afghanistan strategy, which he will announce in a few days, will mean sending more American soldiers to fight and die in this 16-year war? Reuters today:

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s top national security aides are backing adding between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and allowing them to embed with Afghan forces closer to combat.

Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said an extended strategy review was somewhat positive because it showed that all options were being considered. However, recent gains by Taliban militants made it imperative that a strategy be announced soon.

According to U.S. estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under the control of the insurgents.

“The Taliban insurgency has never been stronger… We need a strategy to address all this, and fast,” Kugelman said.

After 16 years of Americans fighting in Afghanistan, this is where we are. But unless Trump has a surprise in store, we’re sending more soldiers in. That would be a conventional Republican presidential move. According to the Weekly Standard, Bannon was the sole voice around the president who opposed sending more troops. 

New York magazine writes:

What happens inside of the Trump White House now is not yet as clear as what will happen outside of it. In just a few weeks, Trump has isolated himself by purging his inner circle of figureheads of the Establishment and the nationalist right. What’s left are his family members, some Republicans, and a curiously substantial number of Democrats. “You do have people who were with him throughout the campaign and they understand what the base wants, but I don’t see any senior decision-makers around the president besides the vice-president who are real conservatives,” a source close to the White House told me on Friday afternoon.

“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon told the Standard on his way out the door. But Trump is still the president. I wonder if anybody still believes that he is capable of doing good things for the country, and leaving it in better shape than he found it. I’m serious about that. Me, I look forward to his appointments of federal judges, but politically, he has made himself so toxic that it’s hard to imagine that he has the political wherewithal to get an agenda through Congress. If he had an agenda, I mean.

Can he recover? And if so, how? Or is the best we can hope for a caretaker presidency that can do as little harm as possible before the next one takes over?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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