“I don’t need any support, advice, or compassion, because even if I am the most ruinous man, I still feel so powerful, so strong and fierce,” wrote the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran in his first work, On The Heights of Despair. “For I am the only one that lives without hope.” This is a fine summation of Donald Trump’s operational philosophy. He listens to everyone and no one, changing his mind on a dime, doing whatever the last person told him to do. He pits factions against each other, seemingly for the sole purpose of making himself feel stronger. The result is chaos, and Trump cannot escape it.
Trump’s eleventh week in office was defined by a Venn diagram of authoritarians and chaos. He met with Egypt’s military dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and China’s Xi Jinping. After declaring repeatedly that he would not take action in Syria, he lobbed 59 tomahawk missiles into the country in response to Bashar al-Assad massacring his own people with sarin gas. Meanwhile, his inner circle was tearing itself apart, with son-in-law Jared Kushner gaining the upper hand over bloated nationalist Steve Bannon. In Congress, Senate Jowl Leader Mitch McConnell was destroying the filibuster to confirm human ski lodge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
And yet, by shooting off a bunch of missiles, Trump ended his eleventh week with the admiration of the criminally negligent commentariat, a bunch of rats who waxed poetic on the beauty of the bombs and gushed that Donald Trump, on his 75th day in office, was now, officially, the president. All it took was killing some Syrians.
However, before the attack we had a week of poor decisions and mangled outcomes, resulting in the lowest approval rating ever for any president in their first 100 days. It’s hard, in fact, to see the issues as being separate. Donald Trump cannot win on policy—his ideas about trade, immigration, health care, taxation, and regulation are all widely unpopular. He can only win with bombs.
The week began with the focus firmly on Trump’s biggest crisis: the relationship between his campaign and Russian officials. On Thursday, it was reported that America’s most famous anti-Gulenist Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser until it was revealed that he had a knack for lying about conversations with Russian officials, was willing to talk—if he got immunity. On Friday morning, Trump was like, “Go for it buddy,” even though Flynn’s testimony would almost certainly be damaging. (You tend not to ask for immunity unless you’re going to testify against bigger fish and Trump, a swollen guppy, is a bigger fish than Flynn.)
Flynn, a man with an even more embarrassing child than Eric Trump, may still flip, but it became clear that his play for immunity had failed—no one bit. As for Trump, he basically didn’t want to talk about it.
On Saturday, Politico reported that people in the White House were starting to get mighty sick of evil college boyfriend/human lacrosse stick Jared Kushner, Trump’s Secretary of Everything and the only person who seemed to be immune from Trump’s wrath. It emerged that the Kushner wing—which consists of himself, Ivanka, and economic adviser Gary Cohn—had surpassed the Bannon wing for influence. Trump that day also took a break from using his worst nickname (“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd,” which is both imprecise and uncomfortably erotic) to signal boost a Fox News report about “unmasking,” which has become his preferred method of muddying the Russia scandal.
On Sunday it was reported that Boy Prince Jared Kushner was on his way to Iraq to visit the troops and learn valuable lessons about war and the power of friendship. Kushner, who seemed to have a fun time and got to wear a cool tiny vest, is now in charge of the administration’s policies on Iraq, China, Mexico, veterans affairs, criminal justice reform, the opioid crisis, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. He has no government experience.
Monday began with Donald Trump talking about the only thing Donald Trump is good at talking about: The election, which happened 150 days ago. Here are some tweets:
You know things are going well when the president of the United States is praising the “reporting” of the doofuses on Fox & Friends and tweeting about Tony freaking Podesta.
But that was where things stood on Monday. Nothing was going right for Trump. The repeal of Obamacare was still dead. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who may very well be the dumbest person in Washington, had shot himself in the foot on the Russia investigation. The administration was stuck in the mud everywhere policy-wise.
Monday ended with an explosive report in The Washington Post: Nine days before the inauguration, the Trump transition team had dispatched Blackwater founder/Betsy DeVos’s brother/legitimate evil person/half-man, half-open air holding cell Erik Prince to the tiny archipelago nation of Seychelles to set up a back channel with Russia. This back channel was facilitated by the United Arab Emirates, the implication being that its purpose was to test the waters for war with Iran.
Tuesday began with the sound of tires spinning in the mud and also the sound of people screaming as those spinning tires kicked mud all over everyone. (Also the mud was poison.) Once again, the administration said they were going to try to push Obamacare repeal because they love the sound of their fist hitting their own face. Their genius plan was to take the American Health Care Act, which less than 20 percent of Americans liked, and to remove the most popular provision in it: protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Politics is hard!
It also became clear that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, had ordered the “unmasking” of at least one Trump campaign official in documents related to the surveillance of Russian officials. The Trump administration was giddy at the news, which did not in any way prove Trump’s wild accusations of “wiretapping.” And yet they persisted, effectively arguing that this proved that they were the subject of a massive, unprecedented, and illegal surveillance operation during the election that ended ... with them winning the election. Moreover, it seems highly likely that Rice asked for these names to be unmasked for good reason, i.e. because they were doing something shady.
Finally, there was tragedy. On Tuesday, Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad dropped sarin gas on a rebel-held area, killing scores of civilians. The Trump administration may very well have been responsible for this attack indirectly. They had been signaling for weeks that they were fine with Assad remaining in power, and over the weekend Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said that the people of Syria would determine who was in charge of Syria (the people of Syria is a euphemism for “Bashar al-Assad”). It is possible that the Assad regime interpreted this as a green light to do whatever the hell it wants. And they got another green light when the Trump administration’s initial response was to shrug it off and use it as an excuse to be demagogues: Sean Spicer and Donald Trump both blamed Barack Obama for the attack, which is both absurd and reprehensible.
But that started to change on Wednesday. Something happened to Donald Trump. It’s not clear what. But he changed his tune on Syria. Now, Trump said that the attack “crossed many, many lines beyond a red line.” What are the lines beyond a red line? Is there a magenta line? In any case, Trump, whose incoherence on foreign policy was often interpreted as being non-interventionist, seemed to be hinting that intervention was possible.
Syria was only one of many spinning, exploding plates on Wednesday. It was reported that infected gym mat Steve Bannon had been booted off of the National Security Council. Neil Gorsuch got caught plagiarizing and no one cared. And Trump said that Susan Rice may have committed a crime, which she almost certainly didn’t, in an unhinged interview with The New York Times. He also defended his friend and fellow (alleged) sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly.
On Thursday, the Bannon-Kushner feud really blew up. It was reported that Uber user Kushner, who reportedly thinks Bannon is a “nut,” was responsible for Bannon’s demotion. Bannon, meanwhile, decided to take a page out of Kushner’s revenge playbook (a comic book version of The Simpsons’ Count of Monte Cristo episode): The Daily Beast reported that Bannon had called Kushner a “globalist” and a “cuck.”
Thursday was among the most eventful days in Trump’s presidency. Senate Republicans destroyed the filibuster, paving the way for Neil Gorsuch to take
Antonin Scalia’s Merrick Garland’s seat on the Supreme Court. Devin Nunes announced that he was taking a break from the House’s investigation into Russia because he was being investigated for being a dumbass. Trump claimed that he had “the most successful” thirteen weeks as president ever, despite the fact that he had only been president eleven weeks. And then he bombed Syria.
This was both a potential major step for American foreign policy and a transparent ploy for accolades at home. We’ll start with the former because it’s less important. By attacking Syria, Trump is breaking from Obama’s foreign policy and escalating the situation in Syria. Why is he doing this? It’s not entirely clear because Trump and his team have been remarkably incoherent on the subject—and because all of them were signaling that they were all about leaving Assad in power until two days ago. Trump campaigned on being unpredictable in foreign affairs, but this is clearly not strategic. Instead, it’s a byproduct of Trump’s most defining characteristic: his flightiness. It could pay off, if Syria and Iran and Russia don’t treat it as a bluff, which it almost certainly is. If they do take it seriously, it’s possible, I suppose, that it could lead to meaningful negotiations. But if they take it seriously it could also lead to a frightening escalation in the conflict, which is something that Donald Trump is not prepared for in the slightest.
But launching missiles into Syria had much more to do with what was happening domestically. Donald Trump is almost unfathomably unpopular. He can’t win anywhere: Every action he takes is met with protest and every move he’s made on policy has failed, because he’s a bad negotiator and an idiot, and because no one wants what he’s selling. But bombing Syria is moderately popular. More importantly, it’s the kind of “presidential” action that Trump gets praise for. Last night, as bombs were falling on Syria, the pundit class lost its shit about how awesome and presidential this largely symbolic but incredibly risky action was.
The danger of this is that Trump has now learned that killing people will benefit him politically. More terrifying than that, he has now learned that killing people may be the only thing that benefits him politically.