I began my piece about Trump’s news conference on Syria by pointing out that “for three years now, we’ve been living with a president whose pronouncements are directly contradicted by reality.” It is worth taking some time to think about the impact that has had on all of us and our view of the presidency.
Regardless of when Trump leaves office, we will have spent years living with a president who has broken almost every norm imaginable, who can spew over 20 lies in the course of a little more than an hour, and who refers to those who oppose him a “human scum.” The latter two are merely recent examples of things that happen regularly these days, but would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
I’m not talking about Trump’s policies. While they are often more radical that previous Republicans, they are something we’ve lived with for a very long time, and aren’t likely to change. What is unique about this presidency is that Donald Trump is a bully who lives in a delusional world of his own making, demonstrating daily that he is totally unacquainted with truth. It is not up to me to provide a diagnosis, but that fact is that we’ve been dealing with someone who is mentally and emotionally unstable.
For those of you who have lived with someone who is an addict or could be diagnosed with a personality disorder, you will recognize that, even if they leave, the adaptive behaviors you used to survive don’t automatically go away. That is why groups like Al-Anon exist and most treatment programs require spouses and families to be involved.
There are times when I can feel that kind of adaptation taking place when it comes to Donald Trump’s presidency. I don’t pay that much attention to his stream of lies anymore. And when he says something outrageous, it just feels like more of the same. I think, “Oh, he’s done it again” and move on. The reality of what we’re living with is that the kind of rage that is appropriate in these circumstances is impossible to sustain, so we stop trying and, in tiny little ways, begin to normalize what’s going on.
Every now and then I try to imagine what it will be like after Trump is gone. Will all of those norms he shattered suddenly reappear in place? Will we once again expect a president to know the difference between a lie and the truth? Will the standards of what we expect in presidential behavior re-emerge? Do we even remember what they are? I suspect that no matter who holds the office next, we’ll all flounder for a while. But the real test will come when the next president steps out of line. Will we notice and call it out, or simply ignore it and move on?
None of that even begins to touch on the trust and confidence we’ve lost, both for our fellow Americans and the presidency itself. Some skepticism is always in order, but it is the foundation that has been fractured. One can only hope that it is repairable.
The huge task of repairing all of the damage Trump has done to the federal bureaucracy and our foreign policy awaits our next president. It would be wise for the Democratic candidates to mention that at some point. But we’ll all be faced with the need to figure out how to recover from Trump’s insane presidency. To minimize that task is to ignore the damage that has been done.