The level of national stress is palpable. The sense of instability and stomach-churning anticipation of the next madcap, possibly destructive news to emerge from the Trump White House is taking its toll on everyone.
It's difficult to pinpoint another time in American history in which the presidency has been so incompetently managed and so untrustworthy that it manufactures a tangible feeling of low-frequency dread. Paraphrasing the great Steven Wright: it's as if the entire nation is leaning too far back in our chairs, and just before we fall over backward, we catch ourselves at the last minute -- in the age of Trump, we feel like this all the time. We're all victims of the Mad King's mental torment, including many Republicans.
We're on the brink of a coast-to-coast nervous breakdown.
Because this hasn't happened before, the process of calculating how long it can last without exploding into full-on chaos is an extreme challenge. We just don't know the timeline for enduring the erratic zig-zagging and politically tone-deaf nonsense generated by our current president before the system begins to collapse under the weight of his nonstop bungling and trolling. My best assessment as a political scientist is this: the Trump presidency needed to end months ago, therefore he has to be forced to resign or be impeached immediately.
If you've been following my work, you'll recognize this refrain: every second he's president constitutes damage. With every passing day, our standards for leadership are whittled away by a know-nothing reality show socialite, leading to more D-list idiots believing they can be president; the debate becomes more coarse, antagonistic, superficial and divisive; America's stature as a super-power slowly drowns; the functioning of the "administrative state" is being torn down, brick by brick; and the integrity of our elections is being further hijacked by Putin's Russia, while Trump isn't doing a damn thing to stop them and, in fact, is rewarding the Russians with efforts to lift sanctions.
This list only skims the surface with broadstrokes. The details of Trump's damage to the system are far more harrowing. The only acceptable solution is for investigators to uncover enough evidence of malfeasance to force Trump to resign.
That said, I tend to agree with Bill Maher who said on the latest episode of Real Time that the left seem to be convinced that either Trump will be impeached; that the Democrats will win back Congress in 2018; or that Trump will be impeached. I hate to be a Debbie Downer here but we can't assume any of this. We can't operate under the assumption that Trump is doomed and will be hastily frog-marched from the Oval Office into a padded room. Put another way: Don't get happy.
Throughout the 2016 election, I warned Democratic voters to not assume Trump will lose the election. Whenever a new poll dropped showing Hillary Clinton with a substantial lead, I warned fellow lefties to avoid getting happy about it. Happiness, in my experience, rapidly morphs into complacency, and complacency means less enthusiasm and lower voter turnout. It also manufactures extreme disappointment, which can easily blossom into full-blown political apathy and cynicism.
So, while it won't ameliorate our national stress, we all need to prepare ourselves for the possibility of Trump making it all the way to the 2020 election -- and possibly winning re-election. There are mechanisms at work to prevent Trump from running again, though none of those mechanisms are a sure thing, especially when Democratic voters grow precipitously complacent, expecting an easy victory over the Twitter Toddler, either in the 2018 midterms or the 2020 presidential election.
In particular, the option of impeachment is a long shot, even after 2018. The Democrats could end up winning back the House, knowing they only need a net gain of 25 seats to hit the magic number of 218 seats for a thin majority. But on the Senate side, where an impeachment trial would ostensibly take place, 2018 is a tough year for the Democrats given that only seven Republican seats and 15 Democratic seats are up for re-election. The Dems will have to defend their 15 seats while flipping around half of the GOP's seats.
And then there's Russia. Not only is Putin continuing his efforts to meddle in our democratic institutions (James Comey confirmed that Russia's attacks have continued beyond the election), but if 2016 taught us anything, it's this: we should never, ever underestimate the stupidity of way too many American voters, on the left and the right. In the age of weaponized social media and cable news, voters can be too easily suckered by propaganda, whether issued by the Kremlin or by Fox News Channel. Worse, a considerable number of voters are casting ballots based on trolling the other side, rather than in support of a policy platform.
Further muddying the waters for a speedy removal of Trump from office is the ever-present possibility of a catastrophic terror attack on American soil. Don't forget that George W. Bush was on his way to being a one-termer when 9/11 changed everything. Suddenly, our doofus president enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating and was easily re-elected in 2004 partly due to American voters preferring "war presidents." Hopefully, events will force Trump out of office before this shoe drops, but it's impossible to know either way. At some point, though, Trump will be tested by an attack of some sort, and the cable news media will try to convince us that his reaction is presidential. Shockingly, millions of people will likely agree with the assessment.
One last thing: Trump is playing exclusively to his base, which means he can more or less count on a floor of 38-40 percent support in the next election (including GOP candidates in 2018). All he'll need to do is pick up five or six more points over and above this floor and suddenly he's matching his 2016 margin of victory and, with it, his 2016 electoral vote count.
We have to assume that 2018 will be the fight of our political lives. We have to assume that the deck is stacked for Trump to be re-elected in 2020. Don't assume anything. Don't get happy. And keep fighting -- despite the stress.
(Full disclosure: I picked up the phrase "Don't Get Happy" from the old Don & Mike Show, when I was an intern during the early 1990s.)