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Trump Outrage Fatigue

The president is wearing us down with silly dramas and incompetence

Megan “Not A Liberal” McArdle has a good column out concerning Trump outrage fatigue. She says that the outrageous things Trump does are coming so fast and furious that people will start to consider normal what ought not to be normal behavior for a POTUS. Excerpt:

Americans have a sort of privilege, a blindness to how wrong things can go in a country, because we live in one of the oldest constitutional republics in the world. Two centuries of largely peaceful proceduralism have enabled us to forget just how precious our civic norms are. They are precious, and they need to be maintained by active work. Instead, both sides of the political spectrum are increasingly looking to tear them down, always justifying their disastrous rending of our political fabric by the twin excuses of the splendid aims they mean to achieve, and the big holes that have already been ripped by those louses in the other party.

I’m also concerned that those of us whose job it is to point this out won’t be up to that job. I’m already tired of writing the “Trump had done something outrageous” column, because how many times can I point out that the man keeps acting in a distressingly unpresidential manner? And even if I write it, how long are readers going to be willing to read the same thing, over and over, with only the details changed for variety?

That’s what liberals worry about when they talk about “normalizing Trump”: that the sheer repetitiveness of his offenses against liberal democracy will make them ordinary and banal, that we will lose our ability to understand that each new outrage is, in fact, outrageous, and must be treated as such if we are to retain the precious legacy bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers, and two centuries of successors who painstakingly built the liberty we now enjoy. When his supporters dismiss criticisms as hysteria, saying “It’s not that bad,” in some sense, they’re right: So far, he has not openly defied the courts, a la Andrew Jackson, nor explicitly threatened people who threaten his business interests. The problem is that the way you get to “that bad” is often through a long succession of “At least he hasn’t …” until finally, he does, and you find that the permission granted for earlier transgressions has created a blanket hall pass for gross abuses of power.

No, liberals are right to worry, and in fact, I don’t think they worry enough. Because the biggest risk is that even if we keep shouting “This is not normal!”, voters who have heard that a thousand times before will eventually yawn and say “No, actually it is.”

Read the whole thing. I thought about this last week, when the President of the United States tried to start a Twitter war with a retailer (Nordstroms) over its discontinuing Ivanka’s clothing line. As McArdle writes:

It also matters that it’s happening in the first month of his presidency, when he’s supposed to be busy figuring out how to run the country. If he’s this openly shilling for his kid’s business now, what will things look like in a year or two, when he’s had time to settle into the job?

During the fall campaign, I was not terribly worried about Trump’s proposed policies, at least not by comparison to his temperament. He has no maturity, which entails a complete lack of prudence. It shows in the chaotic way his White House is being run. Here’s a big story about how crackpottily the National Security Council is being run (e.g., staffers are having to read the president’s tweets and make policy to conform to them). And now we have to worry that the National Security Adviser lied to the Vice President about his pre-Inauguration contacts with the Russian embassy. The United States cannot afford incompetence (at best) and deception (at worst) at this level.

Ross Douthat writes today on the effect that Trump’s thin-skinned lack of discipline is having on him politically:

As a result, right now his presidency is in danger of being very swiftly Carterized — ending up so unpopular, ineffectual and fractious that even with Congress controlled by its own party, it can’t get anything of substance done. The war with liberals and the media may keep his base loyal and his approval ratings from bottoming out. But it does nothing to drive any kind of agenda, or pressure Congress to enact one. And the more the Trump White House remains mired in its own melodramas, the more plausible it becomes that the Trump-era House and Senate set a record for risk avoidance and legislative inactivity.

This morning, Trump tweeted out a bitchy remark about Mark Cuban, in response to an anodyne comment Cuban made to a group of business leaders, telling them not to worry about currying favor with the president, but rather to put the good of the country first. 

It cannot be said often enough: this surpassingly petty behavior demeans the presidency. The time Trump spends focusing on things like this is time he’s not spending focusing on the country’s real problems, and getting done what the people who voted for him want to get done.
Andrew Sullivan returned last week to a regular column. In his first one, he writes about how Trump lies constantly, about the tiniest things, and how exhausting this is. More:

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.

I disagree. Under Obama, for example, the White House busied itself with Title IX activism, and with inserting the senior levels of the federal government into the way high school locker rooms are run. Still, I take the point. I’m starting to worry that the only real legacy Trump will leave is having unified and enraged the Left.

UPDATE: This morning’s examples of pettiness unbecoming a president:

We’re only in Week Four, by the way.