There has always been a sort of manic/depressive quality to Trump’s presidency. I’m not suggesting that the president should be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That would require a more up-close examination of his daily routines. But we’ve witnessed periods where he seems to go off the deep end emotionally, only to be followed by times when his behavior is actually described as “presidential.”
Last week brought us one of those cycles as it unfolded over a couple of days. Trump’s immediate response to the events in Charlottesville was to suggest that in altercations between white supremacists and counter-protesters, there were “many sides” to blame. Then his handlers got hold of things and scripted a speech in which he condemned racism, only to be followed the next day by unscripted remarks at a press conference where he reverted to his original statement.
As David Atkins pointed out over the weekend, the flip was condensed to a matter of minutes on Twitter as the president reacted to demonstrations in Boston.
Yesterday we learned that Trump will give a speech tonight in which he is expected to lay out a plan for this administration’s strategy in Afghanistan. Based on what we’ve seen from this president over the last few months, we can expect that to be a very well scripted affair and the media will respond by doing a logical analysis of what he has to say. While it grows increasingly difficult to buy into the charade, there might even be some who will suggest that his remarks were “presidential.” If so, you’ll be able to hear a sigh of relief in their voices that signals the hope that all of this ugliness we’ve witnessed over the past week is finally behind us. I’m sure that is exactly what Chief of Staff John Kelly and his other handlers had in mind when they decided to schedule this speech tonight.
After that, the president is off to Phoenix for a campaign-style speech in which it is very possible that he will announce a pardon for convicted Sheriff Joe Arpaio—a hero to white nationalists. His staff will have their hands full in trying to keep him on script at this kind of event. As we watched throughout the 2016 election, Trump tends to feed off the crowd, which will be stacked with his most loyal supporters.
Over the last couple of months, Josh Marshall has started to suggest that Trump’s presidency is like living in a household with someone who is abusive.
I’ve analogized him before to an abusive man in an abused household – only his house is now the country, now with all the cumulative exhaustion, warped perceptions and damage that are the common lot of people living with and trapped with violent predators, addicts or people with certain profound mental illnesses.
That is a pattern a lot of us have come to recognize. The outbursts are often followed by a period of calm in which the victim assumes that the abuser has changed. While Trump will never be contrite, it is very possible that his more abusive energy will have waned over the course of last week’s events and his handlers will be able to contain his most destructive impulses.
If that happens, you can expect that we’ll hear a huge sigh of relief that is indicative of the “warped perceptions” that are common among people who are trying to adapt to living with someone who is abusive.
Marshall offers that analogy because he is suggesting that we tie Trump’s previous behavior to what we’ve just witnessed and not get fooled again. Here’s what we know about the past:
We elected a President driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It’s no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a President who is an abuser and a predator.
Last week Trump crossed a line. We know that. He’ll do it again. We know that too because he has shown us time and time again who he is. He might or might not be able to get through a speech about Afghanistan and a rally in Phoenix, but even if he does, it will be because he submitted to his handlers and not because he has ceased to be an abusive predator.