The sec­ond 100 days: It gets worse

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - RUTH MAR­CUS ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

So much for the no­tion that the sec­ond 100 days would be calmer or more re­as­sur­ing. As April drew to a close, and with it the ar­ti­fi­cial marker of the first 100 days of the Trump pres­i­dency, it was pos­si­ble to con­jure a rel­a­tively com­fort­ing sce­nario: It could have been worse.

Af­ter all, Pres­i­dent Trump launched his ad­min­is­tra­tion with the dan­ger­ous duo of Michael Flynn as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and Stephen K. Ban­non as­cen­dant. The 100-day pe­riod ended with Flynn fired, Ban­non di­min­ished and the new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, H.R. McMaster, join­ing forces with De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis to pro­vide a pro­tec­tive buf­fer against pres­i­den­tial im­pul­sive­ness.

Mean­time, notwith­stand­ing atroc­i­ties such as the im­mi­gra­tion or­ders and the House health-care plan, Trump backed away from some of his most jar­ring and ir­re­spon­si­ble cam­paign-trail prom­ises and rhetoric, from declar­ing NATO “ob­so­lete” to la­bel­ing China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor to mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem.

A 70-year-old man does not change his char­ac­ter or ba­sic ap­proach. Still, the im­mense re­spon­si­bil­ity of the pres­i­dency molds its in­hab­i­tant. Thus, it was pos­si­ble to de­tect some glim­mers of mat­u­ra­tion and even learn­ing. Health care turned out to be more com­pli­cated than any­one knew. Heart­break­ing pho­tos of dead Syr­ian chil­dren killed by chem­i­cal weapons man­aged to evoke pre­vi­ously un­seen em­pa­thy.

Not that the first 100 days had been even in the ex­urbs of nor­mal, with the in­au­gu­ral in­vo­ca­tion of “Amer­i­can car­nage”; the flood of ego-boost­ing un­truths, from the in­flated crowd size to the pur­port­edly fraud­u­lent pop­u­lar vote; and the re­flex­ive as­sault on en­e­mies, in­clud­ing a “so-called judge” and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for its sup­posed wire­tap­ping plot.

Still, in res­o­lutely op­ti­mistic mo­ments, you could imag­ine a White House whose learn­ing curve would con­tinue an up­ward climb, how­ever grad­ual and episodic, in which the New York mod­er­ates — Jared Kush­ner, Ivanka Trump, et al. — would el­bow aside the Amer­ica Firsters. No longer. True, the in­sti­tu­tions of U.S. gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety have proved rel­a­tively ro­bust. The courts and the me­dia have risen to the con­sti­tu­tional oc­ca­sion; Congress not so much, and in­tra­mu­ral GOP dys­func­tion has so far pre­vented the worst from be­ing leg­is­lated.

But Trump him­self is turn­ing out to be the full-fledged dis­as­ter of our worst fears. He un­der­stands noth­ing and is un­in­ter­ested in learn­ing any­thing — not just the dreary sub­stance of things such as tax re­form but con­sti­tu­tional val­ues, gov­ern­ing norms and the United States’ unique role in the world.

He sees things only through the dis­tort­ing prism of an all-con­sum­ing ego. There is only one Trump instinct — “fight, fight, fight,” he said at the Coast Guard Acad­emy — and one Trumpian di­chotomy: friend or foe. He is im­per­vi­ous to em­bar­rass­ment, no mat­ter how bla­tant his false­hood. The stain of his be­hav­ior spreads to taint any­one within range.

The past few weeks have pre­sented an alarm­ing pa­rade of proof. Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism? Trump sum­mar­ily fired his FBI di­rec­tor over “this Rus­sia thing” — af­ter, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, James B. Comey re­sisted Trump’s de­mand that he pledge loy­alty and de­clined Trump’s im­por­tun­ings to drop the Flynn probe.

Trump met un­apolo­get­i­cally with yet an­other dic­ta­to­rial thug, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, and re­mained shame­fully silent as Er­do­gan’s se­cu­rity goons beat up pro­test­ers on U.S. soil. No sur­prise there, from the can­di­date who urged his crowds to “knock the crap out of” pro­test­ers and as pres­i­dent re­port­edly pressed Comey to jail re­porters for ob­tain­ing leaks.

Over­ween­ing ego­tism laced with self­pity? Trump used the oc­ca­sion of the Coast Guard grad­u­a­tion to lament his treat­ment — “No politi­cian in his­tory — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more un­fairly.”

Sim­i­larly, in the Trumpi­verse, the Rus­sia in­quiry and the newly named spe­cial coun­sel rep­re­sent “the sin­gle great­est witch hunt of a politi­cian in Amer­i­can his­tory.” In fact, Trump has only him­self to blame — Comey’s fir­ing made the ap­point­ment in­evitable, and the episode demon­strates the jus­tice sys­tem work­ing to al­lay pub­lic fears of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.

Dan­ger­ous ig­no­rance and lack of pre­pared­ness for his post? With­out ev­i­dent fore­thought, heed­less of con­sid­er­a­tion of the con­se­quences, clas­si­cally boast­ful, Trump blurted out code-word in­for­ma­tion about the Is­lamic State to the Rus­sians at his Oval Of­fice yuk-fest — and, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, de­rided Comey as a “nut job” whose fir­ing re­lieved “great pres­sure” on him.

The na­tional se­cu­rity and diplo­matic es­tab­lish­ment shud­ders at the thought of this man at loose abroad.

It is im­pos­si­ble to know how this dis­as­trous episode in our his­tory will con­clude, or how grave the dam­age will be. But an adage from con­ser­va­tive economist Herb Stein comes to mind: If some­thing can­not go on for­ever, it will stop. This sit­u­a­tion does not feel sus­tain­able for a full four years.

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