It has been almost three full weeks since Congressman Steve Scalise was shot through the hip by a sniper at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. The shooting, which also left four others wounded, was followed by about 36 hours of ritual shock, disbelief and calls for unity, but with July 4th upon us there is no sign the event has led to any serious reflection that might bring change to our national political dialogue.
Healthcare reform is stalled, primarily because Republicans backed themselves into a corner, over the last seven years, by insisting on the “repeal” of the Affordable Care Act they re-branded as Obamacare. The repeal promise leaves them unable to compromise within their own caucuses and makes it unthinkable for them to work with Democrats. The healthcare gridlock is tying up the rest of the Republican agenda making it possible an entire legislative year could go to waste as the calendar rolls toward an election year making it even more difficult to accomplish anything of substance.
While Democrats gleefully watch Republicans twist; out there in the big country, where the congressional shooter lived, real Americans are left to wonder who is looking out for them? What about my healthcare?
It appears the business of running the country is not the top concern of either party. While Republicans use their majorities to dismantle everything associated with the administration of Barack Obama, Democrats seem focused most on whether Nancy Pelosi should return as Speaker of the House if or once they regain power in 2018. The perception that both sides are more focused on politics than policy is not far from the truth. If Democrats are able to regain control of Congress they will probably spend most of their effort using their power to ensure President Trump is not re-elected. This is the cycle we seem stuck in and it has nothing to do with making your life better.
Presumably, this sense that no one is looking out for the voters is the reason why Donald Trump was elected president. He said, he alone knows how the system works, and he said, he alone could fix it. Since taking office, the president has bolstered his reputation as a man with no regard for the truth. Of all the lies he has told, the promise that he could fix Washington may be the biggest. It got to the heart of the problem and people chose to believe it even though Trump’s resume offered no reason to think he could pull it off. The country is so desperate for progress, half the voters relied on pure faith in the absence of proof.
Republican senators left a White House meeting a few days ago convinced Trump has no grasp of some of the basic details of healthcare. By the end of the week, he had publicly undercut the repeal and replace strategy being pursued by congressional leadership. He even said, if the repeal effort fails, that would be fine, he would just move on to the next issue.
All efforts to control the president and manage his agenda have failed. Did you know that over the last three weeks the White House attempted to set the agenda by declaring one week to be infrastructure week, one to be technology week and one to be energy week? You can be forgiven if you missed this, because each week the president managed to step on his own message by just being himself. It can be argued that all three of the last three weeks should have been healthcare week, since that is the biggest unresolved issue the rest of Washington is working on. It is the one place presidential leadership could make a difference, right now.
The president travels this week to Europe for a meeting of leaders, and central bank officials, representing the nations with the largest economies in the world. The G-20 meeting is taking place in Hamburg, Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the host. She is expected to challenge Trump on his recent decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to back her up. The odds Trump will embarrass the United States during the course of the meeting are high. He will be intellectually out-gunned and he does not respond with grace when challenged. He transforms into the ugly American.
Trump will also meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This meeting will be closely watched, because back at home special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was any cooperation between the Russians and the Trump campaign. The trip could turn out to be a real disaster. Trump considers himself a master negotiator and master manipulator, but he has no experience in the field of international diplomacy while his counterparts at the G-20 do. Their agenda includes taking advantage of the new American president or putting him in his place.
There is another factor overlaying everything that is happening in Washington and on the world stage. The president’s mental health is an issue. At home, he is proving to be an erratic and therefore unreliable partner for Republicans on Capitol Hill. In foreign capitals, intelligence agencies must be working overtime to try to figure out if Trump is a mad genius, or just mad.
The president’s latest offensive Tweets, this time about the co-hosts of MSNBC’s morning talk show, raise serious questions about his mental stability. This was not a one time mis-step by someone having a bad day. This is part of a pattern that was on display throughout the campaign and first revealed itself in the White House on that weekend, a few months ago, when the president woke up on a Saturday morning and accused President Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower. Some of Trump’s tweets go beyond ordinary lies and slip into dangerous fantasy.
The day after Trump’s Twitter attack on Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Trump and the newly elected president of South Korea read statements to the news media at a ceremony on the White House lawn. With the Twitter incident over-shadowing the event, Trump’s discomfort was obvious. His performance did not inspire confidence. Anyone watching the president could tell he did not have a command of the subject matter. He left the impression that he might have slipped from his prepared remarks and lashed out at any moment.
Trump’s obsession with his public image is unhealthy. It consumes too much of his time as president and it consumes too much of the energy of the White House staff. There is no doubt Trump’s latest Twitter eruption required hours of staff work. The White House press office, working with the chief of staff and others at the most senior level, had to spend hours coming up with a justification for the president’s outbursts. White House congressional liaisons had to spend hours on Capitol Hill listening to Republicans complain about the president distracting from their agenda. Around the world, allies and adversaries, no doubt, studied the latest news from the White House in their continuing effort to figure out whether President Trump is a person of sound mind. The evidence certainly suggests he is not.
Even more troubling; Scarborough and Brzezinski revealed that several months ago, three top White House staffers, presumably encouraged by the president, tried to force Scarborough to apologize for criticism he leveled at Trump, by threatening the publication of an unflattering story in the National Enquirer. This charge carries shades of the Nixon enemies list and J. Edgar Hoover. If true, it represents a mis-use of power, in fact, such behavior might be considered criminal. The White House has of course denied the charge, but as was the case with former FBI Director James Comey, President Trump is pitting his own reputation for untruthfulness against the reputation of someone with no reason to lie.
Supporters and other observers have begged the president to stop tweeting. Many believe staying off social media is the first step toward saving the Trump presidency, but I believe ending the president’s Twitter habit would only hide from public view the dangerous truth. Ending the Twitter rants would not be a public service, it would be the equivalent of another big lie we all would be in on. What America really needs is full-on Trump Twitter. At some point the window into the president’s troubled mind will be too difficult to ignore and a consensus will develop to take corrective action.