I have finally found something about Donald Trump’s arrogation of the presidency in which to take comfort: his absolute ineptitude at legislative advancement.
The country may well be saved from some of Trump’s most draconian impulses by some of Trump’s most pronounced flaws: his lack of seriousness, his aversion to tedium and his gnat-like attention span.
The embarrassing faltering of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act might be both history lesson and harbinger. Republicans in Congress weren’t prepared with a workable plan, and Trump never had any plan. He campaigned on applause-line policies: Anything that roused a response from his rabid adherents, he repeated and amplified. He never gave details because the details didn’t exist, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand and articulate them if they did.
Trump was simply a megaphone for the primal screams of Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton haters flipping out over the cultural anxiety accompanying the ascension of women and minorities.
He helped people find the language and the platform to disguise racial worry as economic worry. He helped people who inherently, in many cases maybe even subconsciously, loathe women, at least when they aspire to equality or power, to loathe Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to more power.
Trump has a habit of keeping company and confidence with the racially offensive. The fact that Steve Bannon is his chief strategist and has an office in the White House should be proof enough.
But there are other examples. Notably, last summer Trump claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a racial slur to refer to Barack Obama, but just seconds later Trump was hoping that Putin would like him. Trump said:
“I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? … He has a total lack of respect for President Obama. No. 1, he doesn’t like him and No. 2, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected and I hope he likes me.”
Now of course this could all be a lie. Our president lies the way other people breathe — with a complete absence of effort. But true or false, it is a curious story to relay. The president claimed that he was “shocked” at the racial epithet, but not too shocked to abandon a desire for Putin’s favor. If you don’t unequivocally reject intolerance, you are passively — and in some cases, actively — encouraging it.
(Also, I thought Trump said he never met Putin. Oh, well …)
Anyway, this kind of base, dog-whistle anger-aggregation was the Trump campaign specialty, and it — in addition to Russia’s assistance, voter suppression and some folks’ heritage panic — propelled Trump to victory.
But now that Trump is in office, the real work of governing begins — not just the flash of rallies, the ovations of the obsequious, the thrilling one-liners. He now has to both focus on the big picture and fuss over the fine detail.
This is simply beyond him. For simpletons, things must be made simple. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green, author of the new book “Devil’s Bargain,” told Anderson Cooper that building a border wall was just a framing device used by his advisers to get him to remember to discuss immigration.
According to Green:
“It’s one of Trump’s greatest hits but it wasn’t Trump’s idea. Two of his staffers, Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, came up with it as a device to keep Trump, whose attention famously wanders, focused on the issue of immigration reform because they thought that was so important. So, Trump tried it out at a speech in Iowa, the crowd responded.”
Imagine that: We now have a “president” so incapable of linear thought that his own advisers had to give him a four-letter word to remind him of one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
It is possible that part of the reason Trump never developed many of his policies was because neither he nor anyone else thought in a million years that he would win. But another explanation is that Trump simply lacks the capacity for complex thought.
He is an instinctual creature, living on a steady diet of TV, Twitter and turpitude. There is no appetite for the intellectual. There is no desire for depth. There is no tolerance for truth.
Trump’s defect may be America’s defense.
Sure, there is much damage that Trump can do both domestically and abroad to diminish this country and its people. He has already said that he is willing to let Obamacare collapse because his policy impotence failed to score political victory. Yes, folks, we have traded “the buck stops here” leadership for Trump’s “I’m not going to own it” cowardice. (On Wednesday, at a lunch with Republican senators, Trump boomeranged back to his original insistence that lawmakers must pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Go figure.)
Trump is a cold shadow of the president Obama was.
Comforts are hard to come by in the age of Trump, but I believe that we can take some small solace in the fact that the man is simply too intellectually deficient, in both practice and policy, to impose all of the heartless directives his campaign rhetoric threatened.
I don’t know about you, but I'll take whatever I can get.
Charles M. Blow writes for the New York Times News Service.