“The real, the unique misfortune: to see the light of day,” wrote the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran in his 1973 masterwork, The Trouble With Being Born. “A disaster which dates back to aggressiveness, to the seed of expansion and rage within origins, to the tendency to the worst which first shook them up.” Cioran was writing about the trouble with being born, a problem that even suicide could not fix. (“It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late,” Cioran writes in the same text, sounding like a super-dark Counting Crows lyric.) But Cioran could just as well have been writing about President Donald Trump’s twelfth week in office, in which his move towards militarism was widely interpreted as being a sign of maturation. The “light of day” and “the seed of expansion and rage” could just as easily refer to the U.S. military’s enormous bombs, which Trump now loves more than all of his children (minus Ivanka).
The highlight of Trump’s twelfth week should have been the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last Friday. But as is tradition in the Trump White House, this piece of news was stepped on by chaos—in this case, the bombing of Syria. That military intervention was a precursor to a week of Trump jettisoning almost all his campaign promises. Intervention in Syria? It’s good now. Russia? Bad now. Janet Yellin? The best! Chinese currency manipulation? More please! And what could be better than NATO?
Relatedly, this week was also defined by a feud between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a shoehorn wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, and his chief strategist Steve Bannon, a mangy and diseased possum. Trump ostracized Bannon, leading some to declare that Trump was “growing into the job,” the preferred presidential cliché of people who willingly subscribed to the Brookings Institute’s mailing list. And yet, this newly moderate Trump was letting Attorney General Jeff Sessions restart the racist war on drugs, while making plans to drop bombs anywhere and everywhere.
Trump’s twelfth week began with what may have been the longest period of sustained not terrible press of his presidency. Trump lobbed 59 bombs into Syria in a one-off attack and the media and political establishment loved it. Republicans loved it. Democrats loved it (though their voters didn’t). Brian Williams quoted Leonard freaking Cohen while watching the bombs fall. (This was covered at length in last week’s roundup.)
But on Friday, while CNN and The New York Times were cooing at Trump for being so big and strong, it also became clear that this missile strike was not part of a larger strategy. Instead, it made an impossibly complex situation even more complex by adding yet another belligerent power. The strike itself seemed to have no particular goal beyond signaling that the United States would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. There was no indication that it was designed to bring the warring factions (and their foreign backers) into a peace deal. It was not, in other words, a change in Trump’s supposedly “isolationist” proclivities—it was just more evidence that a man who has never had a strategy still does not have one.
This largely symbolic strike did have one major consequence though: Relations with Russia immediately deteriorated to their lowest point since the annexation of Crimea. It effectively buried what may end up being Trump’s most consequential legacy: The Supreme Court confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, a guy who probably has special headphones to listen to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer records. It also buried the White House’s first not-so-great jobs report.
On Friday it became clear that Trump was tiring of the constant fighting between his family (plus Gary Cohn) and Steve Bannon’s “nationalist” wing. That morning, Axios Presented By X-L Lithograph reported that Trump was considering a shakeup—and that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Bannon might be on their way out. Things really blew up over the weekend (which Trump, obviously, spent golfing at Mar-a-Lago). The New York Times reported that Trump was fed up with Bannon and had ordered him to play nice with Kushner. Reports flooded out that Bannon and Kushner were passing mean notes to each other and that Bannon had told Kushner to meet him at the flagpole at recess, but were put in time-out before they could slap fight.
It also became clear that Gary Cohn, whom Bannon’s supporters reportedly refer to as “Globalist Gary” or, in chats, “🌎 Gary,” was emerging as the new Steve Bannon (i.e. Thomas Cromwell in the Court of the Tudors, as Bannon himself put it, even though Cromwell only served one Tudor, Henry VIII, who ultimately beheaded him). Cohn is routinely referred to as a “moderate” by the press and a “liberal Democrat” by the Breitbart wing, despite the fact that he stopped donating to the Democratic Party after Glass-Steagall was repealed.
Monday was a relatively quiet day in D.C. (Congress was in recess). The predictable “Will this be a quiet week for Trump?” posts were written (by me, among others), despite the fact that we had eleven weeks of evidence suggesting such a thing is an impossibility. Emaciated troll doll/neo-confederate reddit superfan/the bad guy in every movie about the Civil Rights Movement Jeff Sessions indicated that it was time to bring back the War on Drugs and fill our prisons with nonviolent offenders for no discernible reason other than the perpetuation of white supremacy and the need to keep private prison stocks buoyant.
In the lead-up to a crucial meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (a guy who really, really, really hates his job) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. told Russia that it had to drop its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. And, for what seems like the 37th time in three weeks, Donald Trump abandoned tax reform. (Trump abandoned tax reform for the 38th time on Thursday.)
On Tuesday it emerged that Trump, who was physically incapable of not tweeting about Barack Obama’s golfing habits as a civilian, would outspend Obama’s entire vacation budget for eight years in a single year—and that he would presumably spend all of that money at Mar-a-Lago, which he owns. Eric Trump speculated that his sister/person who hoarded the not terrible genes Ivanka probably convinced their father to
buy her a pony bomb Syria.
But the most spectacular moment of Tuesday belonged to hated long-term substitute teacher Sean Spicer. Asked about Assad’s use of chemical weapons on civilians, the press secretary said that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” against “his own people” during World War II, apparently forgetting that Hitler gassed millions. (If, as some speculated, Spicer was horrendously using Hitler’s definition of “his own people”—i.e. not Jews—he would still be wrong. Tens of thousands of non-Jewish Germans were euthanized by gas in Nazi Germany.) Spicer, a man who can’t stop digging, then referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust Centers.” That this happened on Passover only made it more egregious.
Wednesday was the White House’s Day of Abandoned Campaign Promises. The day began fittingly with Trump telling The New York Post that, actually, Steve Bannon is kind of a cuck. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told the newspaper. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” In other words: Bannon needs to shape up or GTFO. (As many predicted, the real source of Trump’s disillusionment with Bannon seems to have been a Time magazine cover that identified Bannon as the real president and a pretty dumb SNL sketch.)
Trump then said that China wasn’t a currency manipulator, even though he had said that he would label China as such on “day one” of his administration. Trump then said that relations with Russia were at an “all-time low,” despite having run on a platform of making friendship bracelets with Putin. He then said that he was open to Janet Yellen serving another term as Federal Reserve chair, despite having railed against her constantly on the campaign trail—this will clearly infuriate all of those who voted for him because of their deep hatred of Janet Yellen! Finally, Trump declared that NATO is actually good now.
Thursday was, once again, a day of bombs. The U.S. military dropped something called “the mother of all bombs” (or MOAB) on a mountain in Afghanistan where ISIS fighters were supposedly hiding out. The bomb is very big and very expensive and it was totally unclear who authorized its use—Trump and Spicer both punted when they were asked about that specifically. Once again, the media decided that this was a very good thing because the bomb was big and beautiful.
Donald Trump isn’t the first president to decide to try to bomb his way to popularity, but he is certainly the dumbest, which creates a huge set of risks (e.g., a big war). Thursday ended with NBC reporting that the Trump administration was preparing a preemptive strike on North Korea. We’ve only been in Afghanistan for 16 years and Iraq for 14 years, so why not shoot the moon, I guess. The military tried to walk this report back, but the damage was done—the report undoubtedly made negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear program harder, not easier, because Kim Jong-un will now have to be as belligerent as possible to save face.
This was a week of incompetence and of cruise missiles. But for the 313th time in the past two years, many pundits made the case that a pivot was around the corner. Trump was elevating Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner! He was dropping bombs! He didn’t say anything objectively racist! But this is still the same old Trump—the same Trump who acts entirely on his fraying instincts, who is motivated by his foundational insecurity, and who has no regard for anyone who isn’t Donald Trump.