For more than 18 months, critics of President Trump have repeatedly argued that he is an unhinged ignoramus, a serial fabulist, and dangerously unstable.
This week we found out that those closest to Trump feel the same way.
First came the initial leaks from “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s new book on the Trump White House. In it he depicts an executive branch experiencing a “nervous breakdown.”
Woodward chronicles Defense Secretary Jim Mattis not only comparing Trump’s behavior and knowledge to that of “a fifth- or sixth-grader,” but disobeying direct orders from the president. He writes of chief of staff John Kelly calling Trump an “idiot” and “off the rails,” and of White House aides, like economic adviser Gary Cohn, literally taking papers off the president’s desk so he won’t sign them. And succeeding!
Perhaps most damning are the words of Trump’s own lawyers, who were apparently so terrified of the president testifying in the special counsel’s investigation — because of his inability to tell the truth — that they appealed directly to Mueller not to subpoena him. Doing so, they warned, would convince foreign leaders that the president was an “idiot” and a “dumbbell” and make them ask, “What are we dealing with this idiot for?”
Woodward’s revelations, which are consistent with much of the reporting that’s been done about this White House over the past 20 months, would ordinarily be a devastating multiday story. But one thing we can always rely on with this White House is a steady stream of the crazy. So right on cue, no less than 24 hours after the Woodward leak, came the jaw-dropping New York Times op-ed that quickly blew up the news cycle.
Written by an anonymous White House “senior official,” the piece described the president as “amoral,” “congenitally dishonest,” “erratic,” lacking in any “discernible first principles,” prone to “repetitive rants” and “impulsiveness” that “results in half-baked, ill-informed, and occasionally reckless decisions.” On top of all this, the author proudly and bizarrely tried to reassure Americans that they shouldn’t be concerned about this because “there are adults in the room” — namely his own staff — who are steadily undermining Trump.
“Many Trump appointees,” wrote the author, “have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.” According to the still unknown official, those around Trump have given up trying to change him but instead are seeking to prevent him from doing even greater damage.
In any other administration — and any other time in this nation’s history — this would be the moment when America’s most politically engaged citizens calmly and collectively dumped lighter fluid on their hair, lit it on fire, and ran screaming into the streets. But in Trump’s America . . . it was only Wednesday.
Indeed, perhaps the most stunning and inexplicable response to the op-ed was that of the D.C. press corps, many of whom sniffed that nothing in the opinion piece was new, since they hear such talk from White House staffers on a regular basis. This is where we are right now: A White House official writes that the president cannot carry out his most basic responsibilities, has a child-like understanding of policy issues, and unelected and unaccountable staffers are actively working to subvert him . . . and, despite the furor, it barely registers as news. In fact, right now, despite some rumblings about the 25th Amendment, from Senator Elizabeth Warren and editorial writers (and a passing mention the anonymous op-ed), the biggest parlor game in Washington is deducing who wrote the piece, not trying to figure out how the country can be rid of this deranged man-child running the federal government.
At the end of the day, for all the sturm and drang of the last few days, it’s true that we haven’t learned anything all that new. The president’s manifest unfitness has been, for some time, evident to all but the most blinkered and those with a vested interest in denying what could not be more obvious. The question now is not about convincing the Trump holdouts and dead-enders. Their faith can apparently never be lost. Rather it’s about electing a Congress that will no longer continue to be complicit in this all-consuming madness.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.