Saturday, February 18, 2017

Listen: prepare for the change of subject, since it's coming.

Batten down the hatches and prepare to hold the course: a storm is coming.  We can weather it, but you should be prepared.  Consider this your foul weather warning.

Trump has been battered by almost continual problems from the first moment of his presidency.  His inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama's crowd (which apparently matters a lot to him), the largest protest action in American history swamped the nation the next day, and since then it's been a relentless series of humiliations and mishaps.  It should have been the height of his glory, but instead he and his appointees are widely mocked and he's had trouble filling even the most basic positions on his staff.  He's gotten some good headlines (or the sort of headlines that he desires, rather) with some of his executive orders, but those have either been ineffectual hand-waving ("I hereby command you to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS in a really awesome way") or have been crushed in court.  And the press has relentlessly covered every rejection by a prospective nominee, every humiliation of incompetent management, and every botched and leaked decision.

His approval rating started off historically low, and keeps getting lower.  He can take comfort from Rasmussen polls of likely voters which show him with 55% support.  That's bad for a new president, but not abysmal.  But he seems congenitally incapable of ignoring the more established and well-respected Pew and Gallup polls, which have him at 40% and 42% approval.  As Gallup summed it up yesterday:
President Donald Trump's 40% job approval rating about one month into his presidency is 21 percentage points below the historical average rating for elected presidents in mid-February (61%). It is also 11 points below the lowest mid-February reading for any other president.

Crowds, polls, and headlines: these are the things that matter to President Donald J. Trump. And right now, they're all against him.  So you should be prepared when he tries to change the subject.

It seems like Trump's already on the job, trying to shift the narrative into something that he prefers -- away from substance and towards style.  He held an extremely long and strange press conference in which he was offensive, brash, bullying, ignorant, and bizarre.  He has renewed and intensified his attacks on the media, deliberately choosing provocative language.  And he's going back on the campaign trail, one of the safe spaces (along with his golf courses) that make him feel energized and loved.

I have to tell you, though: none of that is going to work.  This is a mismanaged White House that leaks like a sieve, operates with an incompetent crew of ideologues, and is riddled with juicy conflicts of interest and foreign intrigue.  Every journalist worth their salt is bored with stories about offensive language and wackiness -- they can smell the Pulitzers in the air, just waiting to be snapped up by today's Woodwards and Bernsteins.  They're going to keep pushing, chasing down the Russian connections and the discord among White House staffers.  And their media groups, flush with new subscribers from all over the country, will support them.

So there's going to be other moves and bigger ones to try to change the narrative.  According to the Department of Justice, the Muslim ban will be rescinded and re-issued later this week in a more constitutional form -- but that will just bring more lawsuits and perhaps more restraining orders.  It seems like Trump is unlikely to leave it at that.

So what are we looking at?  What should you be prepared for?

More executive actions are one item that could be brought forward.  A big flashy order on deportations or immigration or the border wall, for example -- ending or continuing DACA, redirecting specifics funds to start construction of the wall, implementing harsher policies at the border.  Or a military order might be possible -- deploying a carrier fleet somewhere as a statement, maybe, or launching some big new initiative against ISIS.  These are all things that are completely under Trump's control and can make big headlines without actually meaning much or requiring much work.  A lot of his executive orders have been toothless, but toothless public relations can still gum up newspaper headlines.

Less likely are legislative solutions.  Obamacare repeal, even in some symbolic small parts, could be introduced.  Any such bill would be hopelessly rushed and would imperil actually getting it done (since any version introduced outside of the "reconciliation" budget process would die in the Senate), but Trump doesn't seem to care about that sort of thing.  Tax reform could also be introduced, even if it would also be similarly symbolic.  Or he could introduce some measure for infrastructure spending, and hope to bully Congress into passing it with debt-driven financing.

You'll notice that many of these possibilities are bad and most of them are dumb.  Some of them are scary, too.  But it's important to also notice that none of these will end the country, and all of them can be undone, either in two years or four.  And even though odds are decent that I can't even begin to anticipate Trump's next erratic and nonsensical move, I see no avenues of great danger to our republic that are open to him at the moment and I see many institutions ready to resist him.

So this is my message: prepare for his next big move as he tries to change the subject, don't be surprised by it, and remember that we will continue to fight and resist.

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