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Intelligencer - September 7, 2019

Some Washington reporters have begun to observe that, in the face oflagging economic indicators, North Koreanprogress on missile tests,GOP retirements in Congress, and other setbacks,Donald Trump’s ever-more-erratic outburstsover the past month are a sign thathe feels his presidency is in dangerin the run-up to 2020. Are they right?

America’s First Baby is certainly acting like someone put him in the corner. To call Trump erratic right now is a compliment. He makes Roseanne Barr look like Theresa May. Just when you think he is going to let go of Sharpiegate after five days and concede that there was never (as he said) a “95 percent chance probability” that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama “very hard,” he’s at it again, summoning a Fox News reporter to the Oval Office to try to enforce his fantastical meteorology. His tweet storm is threatening to outlast the actual storm. What’s next? Will he send Al Roker to Guantanamo? Will he lavish emergency aid on Alabama, perhaps to bolster the campaign of whichever Republican is anointed to take down Democratic Senator Doug Jones in 2020? Or — to repurpose a Jonah storyline from Veep — will he show up an hour late for a public event and insist that everyone else has it wrong because daylight saving time has already ended? Trump could become the first president ever to be publicly corrected by both the National Weather Service and the timekeepers at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Of course Sharpiegate is only one offering in the past week or so’s 24/7 repertory of White House Looney Tunes. Not even another mass killing in Texas could distract our president from a public feud with his long-ago fellow NBC primetime star Debra Messing, of Will & Grace. There’s also the bagatelle of his tweeting out a classified surveillance photo of an Iranian missile site, yet another in an endless series of moves to undermine American intelligence agencies. But there may be more of a method to the madness of Trump’s “congratulations” to Poland on the 80th anniversary of the German invasion. Far from being one of his typical displays of utter historical and geopolitical ignorance, this tweet may have been a heartfelt expression of his genuine conviction that there are “very fine people on both sides” when Nazis launch a blitzkrieg.

Whether this latest uptick in lunacy is attributable to psychological, medical, or political factors — or some combination of the three — is unknown. But whatever is going on, it’s clear that it reached a new plateau a few weeks ago when the word “recession” crept onto his addled radar screen and he realized that blaming his own Fed chairman, Fake News, or Obama would not let him off the hook if a slowdown becomes reality next year. Given that this international anxiety will remain unresolved until Election Day no matter how much he reworks economic charts with his Sharpie, Trump may just be getting started.