Here we are, nearly one year into the Trump presidency.
A year ago, the thing keeping me up most at night was the prospect of the United States turning into an autocracy, the rescinding of civil liberties and the end of constitutional protections. That did not come to pass. Instead, what keeps me up now is the prospect of a nuclear war with North Korea, which now has intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching everywhere in the United States but Puerto Rico — which is incidentally still mostly without power since Hurricane Maria in September.
I have been struck by two things. The first is how much more similar the Trump presidency is to other, normal Republican presidencies. The second is how much I underestimated just how bad a normal Republican presidency would be.
Take the most evocative example: the Great Mushroom Cloud. After North Korea demonstrated their ICBMs’ capability last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham took to television. He rattled his saber with talk more suitable for Pyongyang than Washington, at one point saying, “We’re headed toward war if things don’t change.” Graham is largely described as a reasonable Republican, though in recent years that descriptor may have turned into an oxymoron. If Graham were even a contender for the presidency anymore, his comments would be as inane as Barry Goldwater’s quip about nuking Vietnam.
The Trump administration’s tweets and overall weirdness are something to behold. Most illuminating, the ghastly policy enactments and proposals are very much publican.
Fellow reasonable Republican Jeb Bush praised perhaps Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Even self-described moderates have cheered his reactionary, extremist picks that are reshaping the judiciary from the far-right fringe, such as Neil Gorsuch and Don Willett. As for legislation, every Republican senator — sans Bob Corker — including supposed moderates such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski just voted in the dead of night for a tax bill that resembles a dystopian antithesis of Robin Hood.
This Funhouse of Horrors of a law gives huge tax breaks to corporations and the richest 0.2 percent, and is funded by massive deficit spending and tax hikes on the working poor and students. Meanwhile, it throws a hand grenade at Obamacare by removing the individual mandate. The bill was rammed through Congress after just a few hours of debate, and even veteran journalists aren’t quite sure what all is in it.
Granted, part of this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trump has begun to make the Republican Party more like him as it has been recast in his image. And certainly many lower-level politicians have become more comfortable with their racism, more eager to ratchet-up the mendaciousness and more cynical and willing to simply operate in bad faith. The thing is, though, a lot of that preceded Trump and predicted his rise, not the other way around.
There are still a lot of ways this experiment could go irreversibly awry. The erraticism some have attributed to literal dementia could spiral out of control. The Great Mushroom Cloud looms. Special Counsel Robert Mueller could get fired, prompting a constitutional crisis that would likely see Republicans siding with their demagogic carny over the rule of law, justice and the constitution.
Journalist Chris Hayes recently tweeted, “Sometimes it feels like the institutions are holding and then sometimes it feels like they are very much not.” This is fair enough, but the institutions would be stressed even if supposed moderates, such as Jeb, were in the White House.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.