“After so many defeats and conquests, man is beginning to put himself out of date,” wrote the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran in his 1983 book Drawn and Quartered. “He still deserves some interest only insofar as he is tracked and cornered, sinking ever deeper. If he continues, it is because he hasn’t the strength to capitulate, to suspend his desertion forward (the very definition of history). What ruins us, no, what has ruined us, is the thirst for a destiny, for any destiny whatever.” Cioran was writing about the pointlessness of human life. But he also could have been writing about the Trump administration as it desperately searches for an accomplishment before it reaches the 100-day mark.
Donald Trump’s thirteenth week in office was relatively quiet. Trump was only tangentially involved in the week’s biggest stories: Bill O’Reilly getting fired from Fox News, the upcoming French election, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to hold snap elections in Britain. It resembled Trump’s fifth week in office—the last time Congress was out of session. Still, that was before the massive failure of the American Health Care Act, and the administration at the time was very much gearing up to get things done. This week, in contrast, had a distinct lame-duck feel. You could practically hear the wheels furiously spinning in the mud.
Trump’s thirteenth week began with certain pundits and pseudo-journalists being whipped into a lead-up-to-Iraq-level frenzy following the U.S. military dropping a big-ass bomb on a mountain in Afghanistan. Very little is known about what the “mother of all bombs” did—we don’t have specific casualty numbers for the suspected terrorists who were targeted, and don’t know how many civilians were killed—but that didn’t stop Fox News from dropping the balloons from the rafters and cueing “Celebration.” In this horrific video, Fox & Friends channeled the id of a mainstream media that has decided that the only thing praiseworthy about Trump is his itchy trigger finger.
Having won so many plaudits for bombing stuff, the Trump administration moved on to North Korea. It pushed back on an NBC News report that the U.S. is “prepared to launch a preemptive strike” against the country if it tested a nuclear weapon, but over the weekend, while Trump was golfing at Mar-a-Lago, the Associated Press reported that Trump’s North Korea strategy was one of “maximum pressure and engagement” (which is also a description of Eric Trump’s masturbation technique). North Korea shot off a missile on Saturday evening anyway, which blew up almost immediately. Trump, to his credit, resisted the temptation to gloat, which deescalated the situation. Still, it’s not clear how the administration would have reacted if the launch did work, and that’s scary as hell.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is too scared to have dinner with a woman who isn’t his wife, strapped on his tough man military jacket and went to the Demilitarized Zone look through some big ole binoculars at Kim Jong-un and, uh, send a message. “I thought it was important that we went outside,” Pence said. “I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face.” Mike Pence may be the only person in the world less scary-looking than Kim Jong-un—dude looks like a molting Playmobil figure that was left out after a yard sale.
On Monday, Pence continued the saber-rattling, saying that the “era of strategic patience” is over and that “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve—or the strength of the Armed Forces of the United States in this region.” Despite this ill-advised rhetoric—which only ratcheted up tension and the possibility for horrific violence—there didn’t seem to be an actual strategic change. The Trump administration may be louder than previous administrations, but it is still using their playbook, which is to pressure the Chinese to do something about their client state. Of course, past administrations didn’t have MIKE FREAKING PENCE, man of iron, dictating their terms. The North Koreans responded to Pence’s song and dance by promising to test missiles weekly. Diplomacy!
On Tuesday, it became clear that those ships America was supposedly sending to North Korea weren’t actually going to North Korea at all—they were going to do “exercises” with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean. To be fair, the Indian Ocean is only 3,500 miles away from North Korea. To cover up what was otherwise a total lie, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the armada was going to the Korean peninsula eventually, but that made no sense—why would the United States threaten to send ships to the Korean peninsula “eventually”? In fact, the administration appeared to have been caught bluffing. Why should the Koreans or the Chinese take U.S. threats seriously after this? No one knew foreign relations would be this complicated.
Trump started Wednesday by gloating that Democrat Jon Ossoff did not win a majority in the special election for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s former congressional seat in Georgia. More gallingly, Trump acted as if his own unpopularity wasn’t a major factor in the rise of Ossoff, who is as easy on the eyes as he is not a very good candidate.
To quickly factcheck this: “Despite major outside money (true), FAKE media support (false), and eleven Republican candidates (true), BIG win with runoff in Georgia (pants on fire), Glad to be of help! (pants on fire).” Ossoff’s entire candidacy is based on the fact that people freaking hate Donald Trump. My man is 30 years old and has literally zero positions on any issues but he got 48 percent of the vote mostly because people hate Donald Trump. Trump’s tweets about this race probably did more for Ossoff than any of the other candidates.
Trump ended Wednesday by spending four hours hanging out with Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock, only one of whom owes their career to Bill Kristol. The trio, who are the polar opposite of West Wing fans, discussed “health, fitness, food, rock ’n’ roll, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, secure borders, the history of the United States, guns, bullets, bows and arrows, North Korea, Russia” with the president, who knows nothing about any of these thirteen topics, with the possible exception of border security. They also took this pretty offensive picture in front of a painting of Hillary Clinton, who probably knows more about bow hunting than Donald Trump.
Thursday was a typical day in the lame-duck Trump administration. Jeff Sessions talked about Hawaii the way a 19th-century colonial administrator talked about India. Henry Kissinger wrote a letter of recommendation for Jared Kushner as if Kushner were the son of a guy who he plays golf with. And Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American judge Trump called a “Mexican,” returned to the spotlight.
The previous evening, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration began laying the groundwork for the week ahead. With Congress coming back into session, it promises to be a busy one. The Trump administration, despite running the government, signaled that it planned to hold the government hostage so that it could get funding for its border wall and its deportation force.
There were also suggestions that Congress would take another swipe at repealing and replacing Obamacare. Speaker Paul Ryan claimed that House Republicans were putting the “finishing touches” on a deal that would reinstate the so-called “essential benefits” provision—which requires insurers to cover a range of maladies and services—and allow states to obtain waivers to get around the provision that blocks insurers from raising premiums on people with pre-existing conditions. Getting a waiver would require setting up a high-risk pool or participating in a federal one, even though high-risk pools are terrible and absolutely do not work. Hilariously, the proposed bill does nothing to change the things that people hated about the first Republican health care bill (i.e. it was terrible and cruel and did not make health care cheaper).
All of this comes from a position of weakness. The fact that Republicans are threatening to shut down the government—akin to punching oneself in the face—proves this. The White House seems to think that it can trigger a government shutdown and emerge unscathed. After all, voters have blamed Congress, not the White House, for recent government shutdowns. But this government shutdown would be different: The White House—which, by the way, is run by the same party that runs both houses of Congress—would be causing the government shutdown.
This is totally reckless and driven by the White House’s desperation. Because if something doesn’t happen in the next week, Donald Trump’s first 100 days will end with zilch on the legislative board.