Welcome to 2018. We still have almost 51 weeks left to hope that the political maelstrom emanating from Washington will quiet down. Oh, who am I kidding — this is an election year, and President Trump will do his utmost to make it a referendum on himself. If this first week is any indicator of things to come, he and we are in for a long and bumpy ride.
It seemed impossible for the president’s Twitter storms to get any more strange and destabilizing, but they did. On New Year’s Day, he began with an out-of-the-blue attack on, and threat to cut off aid to, Pakistan. The Pakistanis responded, calling his statement “completely incomprehensible,” and that Trump had “struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations.” Condemning our regional ally has nothing to gain and much to lose, especially for the many American troops headed there in the coming year.
Trump had different targets Jan. 2, one of which was the political unrest in Iran. The president resorted to his favorite meme, attacking his predecessor, even as he criticized the Iranian government, which turned the tweet into propaganda. The ayatollahs used it to show that foreign enemies were meddling in their internal affairs and provoking unrest.
The other tweet wreaked more havoc. He offered up a grade-school playground retort to Kim Jong Un’s braggadocios nuclear button boast. “I too have a nuclear button, but it’s much bigger … .” He also credited himself with talks the two Koreas had arranged to negotiate North Korean participation in next month’s winter Olympics. It appears that the president wants us to believe his tweets got the Koreans to talk to each other. He certainly claimed credit for it in Saturday’s Camp David news conference.
The big news story last week was Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury.” It purports to be an inside account of Trump’s first year in the White House. While the book resembles a tabloid exposé more than serious investigative reporting, its allegations, if accurate, are extremely damaging to the president and his proclamations that there was no collusion with Russia. Wolff wrote that Trump fails to focus on subjects under discussion, gets bored easily, demands personal loyalty, encourages conflict among his staff, and says “expertise is overrated.” It comments extensively on the relationship between Steve Bannon and the president, and it takes aim at the roles his family play in his administration. The blizzard of tweets that followed added to the book’s sensationalism and propelled it to the top of Amazon’s book sales.
Wolff wrote that presidential campaign manager Bannon called Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer “treasonous.” He went on to say that “the chances that Don Jr. did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.” These are extremely serious charges, which, if there is any truth to them at all, would completely discredit Trump’s denial of any connection between his campaign and Russians.
Trump took to the Twitterverse to condemn the book, its author and Bannon. Trump claimed that the man who headed his campaign and spent the first seven months of his term as his chief strategist “had nothing to do with me or my presidency,” called him “Sloppy Steve,” and tweeted that after Bannon was fired, he “lost his mind.” He defended himself against assertions that he is unfocused, prone to emotional outbursts, and (there’s no polite way to say this) stupid. Trump heaped praise on himself in a series of tweets, saying his election confirmed that he’s a genius, “and a very stable genius at that!”
While “Fire and Fury” is the most inflammatory challenge to the president’s mental capacity, it’s far from the only one. Congressional Democrats have proposed that House leadership impanel a commission to determine Trump’s ability to continue as president. The president’s defenders counter that these are strictly political attacks designed to keep Congress from carrying out the Republican agenda. Trump could put an end to all of this by stopping his tweeting. Or, he could submit to a psychological evaluation with only congressional leadership and his Cabinet privy to the results, so they could responsibly decide if 25th Amendment procedures need to be invoked. The president should do this, not only for his own good, but for the good of the country. The world needs a stable America, and America needs a stable president.