Keeping up with the Trump administration is too often like drinking water from a firehose. Two weeks ago, there was the Puerto Rico mess, with the president picking Twitter fights with the mayor of San Juan and boasting about his governmental competence while people died. (Three-quarters of the island is still without power, and one-quarter don't have access to safe drinking water, by the way.)
Last week – into Monday, in fact – has seen President Trump turn condolence calls with Gold Star families into a political quagmire, first by telling a grieving widow that her dead husband, whose name he couldn't remember, knew what he was signing up for; then attacking U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami (not coincidentally, an African American), who relayed the conversation to the press; then promising a North Carolina Gold Star family $25,000 but stiffing them until the Washington Post caught wind of it; then trotting out his chief of staff, Gold Star father John Kelly, to bash Wilson, lying about a 2015 speech she made dedicating a federal building (the White House insisted he was telling the truth even when video revealed otherwise, then argued that it was unpatriotic to criticize a retired four-star general, which is insane); then by reportedly overnighting condolence letters to the families the White House had forgotten to contact (though Trump had earlier said he called nearly all of them); then, on Monday, after La David Johnson's widow gave her first television interview, Trump saying that she was lying about their "respectful" conversation.
Talk about unforced errors.
In the meantime, all sorts of things are happening that might scandalize any other administration: The resignation of health and human services secretary Tom Price seems like ages ago. The EPA is silencing its climate change scientists now, but you probably haven't heard about that. Trump has been subpoenaed for documents about his campaign's response to the women who accused him of sexual assault. The president's third attempt at a travel ban has been rejected by a federal court. The president has all but derailed a deal he struck on Dreamers and injected costly uncertainty into the health insurance market by ending cost-sharing reduction payments. Trump suggested that the Senate investigate media outlets that were publishing stories not to his liking and kept bashing the NFL for not compelling its players into a patriotic display ("forced patriotism," after all, is synonymous with fascism). And on it goes.
Any of these things could dominate headlines for weeks. But here, they're subsumed by whatever the next outrage is, and that outrage is subsumed by the next one, and the pattern repeats, to the point where there's too much outrage for us to keep track of. The same thing happened through the campaign last year – that's part of the reason Trump was able to win just five weeks after a tape surfaced of him bragging about his sexual-assault prowess. I think we give Trump too much credit to say this is a strategy. Rather, it's the result of his impulsiveness, ignorance and narcissism.
As Jeb Bush predicted last year, he's a chaos president. It's not doing him any favors. His base may eat it up, but his approval ratings are mired in the mid-30s and nobody on Capitol Hill trusts him, which will make his already-flailing agenda – especially massive tax cuts – more difficult to enact. So long as he lashes out at every perceived slight no matter the target, it's hard to see any of that changing. (Then again, it was hard to imagine this country electing Mango Mussolini in the first place, so what do I know?)
Regardless of how it plays politically, though, there's no denying that Trump's modus operandi is eroding the very fabric of our institutions. Some Republicans, particularly Sen. John McCain and former President George W. Bush, have spoken out against Trumpism in the last week, with McCain blasting his "half-baked, spurious nationalism" and Bush warning against a politics centered on bullying and prejudice. (Let's not forgot that McCain made Sarah Palin – the precursor to Trump – a national figure and Bush authorized torture and centered his own reelection bid on opposition to gay marriage, so they're hardly blameless.) Both are in the sunset of their political relevance, but a few others, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, have called out Trump's whirling-dervish tactics and authoritarian tendencies as well.
Unfortunately, they're outliers among GOP elites. Not in their feelings about Trump – it's an open secret that many top Republicans loathe the man – but in their willingness to say something about the danger that he represents. And until that changes, until people like Marco Rubio locate their spines and stop abetting Trump out of fear of his rabid base, this rot in America's political system will continue to fester.