Donald Trump and his inner circle are manipulating us in more than one way, but one of the most egregious scams being perpetrated by the new president has to do with expectations.
Throughout the campaign, we watched in shocked horror as Trump managed to survive a blistering string of daily scandals and gaffes -- each of which would've destroyed the campaigns of previous presidential contenders. But for reasons that defy logic, Trump managed to survive and, indeed, his poll numbers often ascended in the wake of each outrage.
Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here about the best ways to respond (or not) to the president's outrageousness. A conversation for another day. For now, I'd like to focus on the reality that Trump is perhaps the first truly remedial president. The standards for Trump's success are almost nonexistent.
Take, for example, his cabinet and staff choices. Because Trump is such an ongoing train wreck, he can merely step up to a microphone and introduce a heretofore unknown nominee and as long as he's not announcing Mayor McCheese for for ambassador to McDonaldland, or Gary Busey for the Supreme Court, it's viewed as a victory for Trump.
Case in point: after nominating Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as the replacement for disgraced former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, the political press almost universally praised Trump's pick, even though it only occurred because Trump's first choice was such an unapologetic crackpot with treasonous linkage to Moscow. Because McMaster is considerably more qualified than Flynn -- he's a passable and intelligent nominee that isn't apeshit crazy -- doesn't say too much about McMaster. If you spend any time in Washington, you can frisbee-toss a MAGA cap and hit someone who's equally qualified for the gig -- definitely someone who's more qualified than Flynn.
And for this, Trump is praised for a victory.
Next, there's Russia. Knowing what we know, and, for the sake of argument, let's forego any allegations linking Russia's hacking of the DNC and John Podesta's email, the fact that Trump hasn't pursued further sanctions and comeuppance for Russia is beyond insane. The public outrage should be constant. The political press should be defining this as a cyber war against both American sovereignty and the integrity of our elections. But in the age of Trump, it's just another in a long roster of drive-by news stories. So, now, if Trump sends UN ambassador Nikki Haley (victory -- she's not a total dolt) to condemn the annexation of Crimea, it's seen a bold move in the face of Putin. Realistically, it's a big nothing. But as long as Trump isn't guzzling Putin's genitals, it's viewed as a win.
Somehow, Trump has managed to scam the press and the American people into handing him undeserved victories in the midst of an exhausting list of failures, lies and dangerously autocratic blurts that, again, would've crucified any other chief executive. Remember when Obama made one off-handed remark in a closed-door meeting about red districts clinging to guns and religion? Republicans are still screaming about this in some circles, even though their new guy says half-a-dozen things that are far more horrendous before most Americans have crawled out of bed every morning. Put another way: Trump says more crazy shit before six than most presidents say all day.
Not unlike Sarah Palin before him, as long as Trump doesn't drop his pants to relentlessly masturbate all over an American flag, his trespasses against the rule of law, the Constitution and against basic presidentialness are quickly lost down the memory hole. His rank incompetence and lack of knowledge about anything important doesn't appear as fatal (politically or otherwise) as it would for any other politician, regardless of station.
He's given chance after chance, and when he accidentally manages to pull off something most presidents have successfully and repeatedly achieved throughout the last 240 years, he's treated as if he just cured cancer.
What else should we expect from a man who brags that he "has the best words" -- a man who's repeatedly declared that he's "like a smart guy?" Having access to words and bragging about being a "smart guy" are surely two of the bare minimum requirements to function as an adult human in normal society -- they're certainly not brag-worthy qualifications for the presidency. Not even close. Yet this has become our standard now, by choice or by default. Any time Trump manages to actually produce a few coherent words or begrudgingly chooses a qualified nominee for whatever, he's patted on the back and graded on the biggest curve in the history of curves. Phew! The way he nominated a qualified so-and-so for once without threatening to nuke Sweden -- amazing!
So, it's entirely possible that this is the game the Trump team is playing. Let Trump be Trump, with all of his Putin-worship, his screeching, his autocratic pronouncements and his apocalyptic threats. His base will love him for it, more than life itself. For everyone else, let the expectations drop through the floor so that when he, for example, nominates Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, it'll be seen as a praiseworthy victory -- indeed, a transcendental achievement. Why? Because he briefly exceeded above those subterranean expectations.
My biggest concern (apart from nuclear war, losing healthcare or Russia's ongoing Trump-endorsed cyber war) is that expectations will remain this low, or close to this low, after Trump is long gone. The thing that makes me lose sleep is the prospect that enough Americans will reason that if Trump's incompetence and lack of mental fitness was passable enough, the presidency doesn't need to be a post filled by our best and brightest. Suddenly, we're nominating anyone with money and a platform, no matter how stupid or unqualified. Every day that goes by, Trump is eroding our presidential standards -- one of many reasons why he needs be removed from office as quickly as possible before the damage becomes irreparable.