Guy W. Farmer: Writing political columns in the age of Trump
New York Times political columnist Bret Stephens, the liberal paper’s token conservative, last weekend explained how difficult it is to write columns with a rude, crude egomaniac (my words, not his) in the White House. As Stephens wrote, he was drafting a North Korea missile test column when President Trump erupted in yet another “Twitter fever.”
“Were we re-living the Madness of King George for the nuclear age?” Stephens asked, “or was something more sinister at work? A different column was in order.” I can relate to his dilemma because as soon as I start writing a column about the president’s policies he changes those same policies from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. This doesn’t bother the president’s apologists, but it makes it difficult to write coherent columns about what the president really believes and thinks.
“Mercurial” is the kindest word I can think of to describe President Trump. Some fellow columnists might opt for “deranged” or “unhinged,” but I’ll avoid those terms for now because I’m hopelessly moderate, as my right-wing friends keep telling me.
When Stephens’ North Korea missile column was overtaken by events — Trump’s tweets, that is — he started another column about how “Donald Trump’s presidency is systematically corrupting the American mind.” Within the hour, however, Trump sent out “vile re-tweets of a British far-right extremist,” thereby igniting an ugly Twitter battle with British Prime Minister Theresa May, one of our strongest allies. All of this occurred while Trump’s fellow Republicans were trying to stay focused on the president’s alleged top priority: tax reform.
And then the Michael Flynn story hit the headlines. Trump and his fervent supporters called it a “Nothingburger,” and Stephens wrote Trumpsters deal with “the president’s unhinged Twitter stream” by ignoring it. “Watch what he does, not what he says,” they say. However, “that’s a line that will be harder to defend now that the president’s retweets of a British bigot have precipitated a gratuitous and self-inflicted crisis in relations with our closest ally,” Stephens added. Oh yes, but what about tax reform?
Just as we were about to return to serious issues like taxes and North Korea, the president’s closest White House aides started orchestrating what Stephens called the “slow-motion political execution” of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. When Tillerson was asked in October whether he felt “castrated” by President Trump, the former Exxon/Mobil CEO replied the was “fully intact.” I won’t comment on that colorful terminology in order to protect myself against sexual impropriety charges.
Meanwhile, back to the felony charge against Michael Flynn — lying to the FBI about Russia contacts during last year’s presidential election campaign — Stephens wrote “administration fluffers such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin will say that none of this (Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation) implicates the president … In the meantime, more shoes will continue to drop (and) the odds that Trump won’t serve out his term grow greater.”
I think this is exactly what’s happening as Mueller’s investigation moves closer and closer to the White House. His targets appear to be Trump’s senior adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner, the president’s son Don Trump Jr. and even the president himself. When the investigation reaches the White House, Democrats and never-Trumpers will start talking about “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which are grounds for impeachment.
At that point I think Trump will be tempted to fire Mueller, but if he does we’ll have Son of Watergate, only worse because the president will become a domestic enemy of the Constitution, as was President Nixon during Watergate. Stay tuned.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.