MEMBERS ONLY: The United States Has No President

by Ben Cohen

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling over the editorial direction of the Banter. The non-stop coverage of the Trump administration has begun to take its toll with the daily outrage making it almost impossible to understand what is happening from a broader perspective. Trump’s insane twitter outbursts, policy blunders, ludicrous gaffes and outrageous administrative dramas create an almost daily panic. How exactly are we supposed to cover all the madness? The President of the United States has turned the White House into a reality show, a permanent source of gripping distraction that leads to yet more gripping distraction. Is this the week Trump goes down? Is the Russia probe unveiling impeachable offenses? What can the resistance nail him on? Why aren’t the Republicans standing up to him? How on earth is he surviving this? 

I’ve had to try to create some distance from the daily drama by trying to observe it, rather than react to it, and over the course of the past few days have come to an alarming conclusion: the United States has no president. No leader. There is no functioning government in any meaningful sense of the word. 

Government workers are quitting en masse, Trump’s staff not only continuously undermine his authority, but have gone to war with each other, and Americans believe the Commander in Chief is doing not just a bad job, but a catastrophic one. At the time of writing this, Trump’s approval rating has hit 35%, and his disapproval rating has gone up to 60%. These numbers are not a sign that the president is unpopular — these are numbers that show the president shouldn’t have his job any more. 

The list of Trump’s failures is long and growing. Week after week he abdicates the basic responsibilities of a president, spending most of his time playing golf, insulting people on twitter, or bragging about non-existent achievements. This hasn’t slowed down as his administration has gained experience — it has sped up, and is now hurtling off of a cliff at breakneck speed. 

Trump’s response to the white terrorism in Charlottesville was perhaps the most symbolic of his presidency — a turning point that signaled the beginning of the end. It matters not whether Trump stays in office until 2020 because his presidency is effectively over. And yet still, the president digs deeper into the abyss, trashing the Oval Office and everything it stands for. It is as if Trump wants Americans to know that if they won’t respect him, he will destroy everything they hold dear. Trump speaks for the vocal minority — a dwindling base of rabid xenophobes who live in a bubble of right wing hate and misinformation. The worse it gets for Trump, the more they believe in him because of #FakeNews and “The Deep State” out to get him. It is a destructive relationship pulling Trump further and further away from reality into a dangerous cocoon of denial and idiocy. The events over the past few days are yet more proof that Trump is now beyond help. He is giddily tweeting about the hurricane in Houston currently displacing millions of people. Wrote Tina Nguyen in Vanity Fair

Trump has struggled to respond to the first natural disaster of his presidency with anything other than contrived seriousness at best, morbid fascination at worst. Trump’s public comments on the storm started off professional enough, with a series of tweets from his personal account showing photo and video of him receiving briefings and updates. “I encourage everyone in the path of #HurricaneHarvey to heed the advice & orders of their local and state officials,” he tweeted Friday, shortly before leaving the White House for Camp David. From there, as the cable-news networks moved into full-time Harvey coverage, his postings became more excited, and less sympathetic. “125 MPH winds!” he wrote, emphatically, in one post. “Storm turned Hurricane is getting much bigger and more powerful than projected,” he said in another.

Not only this, Trump appears to have admitted that he pardoned prominent racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio during the storm for the ratings. “A lot of people think it was the right thing to do,” Trump said on Monday. “Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally.”

Just think about that for a moment. The President of the United States has publicly admitted that he used Hurricane Harvey to promote shameless pandering to his racist base. These are not the words or actions of a president. These are the words and actions of a dangerous narcissist who has no business being in office.  

Astonishingly, a recent video emerged on Facebook of Secretary of Defense James Mattis telling a group of American troops, “You’re a great example of our country right now…Our country, right now, it’s got problems that we don’t have in the military. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.” 

This was the Secretary of Defense explicitly admitting that his own boss — the President of the United States, is an aberration that must be waited out. 

As the Russia probe deepens and Trump’s complicity with the Kremlin becomes ever clearer, we can hope that the president is living on borrowed time. Trump’s own staffers have apparently begun speaking to him about the prospect of impeachment, and members of his administration are now fleeing. In Trump’s world, this means little however. The president appears to thrive off of disaster and calamity, and he is bunkering down and feeding off of the negativity he appears to so often be able to manipulate to his advantage. With Republican action, Trump can duck and weave enough to keep himself in office where he can continue to create havoc and destruction — but this does not mean he is president in any meaningful way. 

When a leader stops leading, the power vacuum creates an enormous amount of uncertainty. The rage, confusion and despair we are all feeling does not come from Trump’s actions — it comes from his lack of action. There is no leader to heal divides after man made and natural disasters. There is no coherent plan for the country to solve the ongoing health care problems, reduce poverty or engage with the rest of the world. There is no climate change plan in the White House, no commitment to ensuring future generations get to drink clean water and breath clean air. There is no Commander in Chief who can navigate complex geopolitical problems like the one emerging in North Korea. There is nothing — just a bloviating old man at war with himself and everyone around him, playing out his deep seated insecurities for the world to see. The United States has no president, and the sooner we realize this, the faster we can go about filling the void.