The nation stands. Exactly six months into the Trump presidency, it teeters and sways, it breaks out periodically in cold sweats, cries out in confusion, howls in rage, scrolls through Twitter, looks longingly at Canada. It yearns for a slow news day, even as it watches Fox News late into the night. But there have been no such days among the last 180, nor in those that preceded the one in January that saw Trump place his left hand on the Lincoln Bible and take the oath of office. It may be years before there is a slow news day, a day we do not turn our tired eyes to CNN, a day without breaking news of Russian spies setting phones aglow in the hours of the night that used to be reserved for peace.
And yet the nation stands.
Some worried that Trump was the second coming of Hitler, but he has not been that. Others saw visions of Reagan. Those have dissipated, too. So far, he has failed to realize his darkest, most xenophobic campaign promises, but he has also abandoned the feints at centrism that could have given him curious purchase with a Washington establishment that has long suffered from chronic legislative constipation. Trump has been a low-grade fever, enervating but not fatal.
Anxiety, these days, finds a reliable partner in outrage. There is outrage over Trump’s tweets, his political appointments, the things he says and does not say. The left is outraged by his lack of statesmanship while the right is outraged by the Deep State, plotting to take him down. The left wants to talk about Russia. The right still wants to talk about the Clintons. Nobody wants to talk about the value-added tax. And if someone could only find a way to harness outrage for electricity, our energy problems will be solved, at least for the next three years.
Those who used to lament the lack of civic engagement did not know what a gift the Trump presidency would turn out to be. People are not just reading newspapers, they’re paying money for them. In line for a lunch sandwich, I hear talk of budget reconciliation and the 14th Amendment: I’ll have the prosciutto panini and the equal protection clause. There is a special election in suburban Atlanta, and the nation is riveted. There is a subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, and we stay home from work.
Did any human being not explicitly paid to do so ever watch a White House press briefing before January? Now, millions tune in to hear Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders explain how hate-tweeting at CNN is making America great again. Remember when Twitter was for feuds between Shaquille O’Neal and Justin Bieber? Now it’s how our president announces policy foreign and domestic.
People are tired. Most of the hope Trump’s supporters once had has receded; so has some of the fears of his opponents. But what follows? The nation is a jetliner flying through a rough patch of turbulence. The wings will hold, the sutures of the hull won’t tear. When the 9th Circuit tells Trump he can’t ban Muslims, he doesn’t send drones to obliterate San Francisco. He may yet have CNN’s Jeff Zucker arrested, but he hasn’t yet. But a turbulent flight is never pleasant, and even experienced flyers can get queasy in a bad storm, especially if they suspect that the pilot is thumbing through Playboy.
He should’ve led with infrastructure. Fix potholes, and the nation will love you forever. Do something about Amtrak, and they will chisel you into Mt. Rushmore. Fix the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and they will rename Staten Island after you.
Alas, Trump instead lead with the Muslim ban and followed that with a try at repealing the Affordable Care Act. The first has been a partial failure, the second an utter one. Now he’s intent on something easy, something that will net a win. So now he turns to...taxes. Maybe he can skip a weekend of golf and pacify Pyongyang, while he’s at it.
Brace yourself, America: there are still 1,280 days of the Trump presidency left. Hopefully, they’ll get to that infrastructure plan soon.
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