Trump in the moment

For all the talk of President Donald Trump’s unique presidency, his regime has a sort of familiarity. He resembles a ward healer politician who talks big but ultimately retreats. Overly dependent on his “base” — a tiresome description if ever there was one — Trump tries to keep all the component parts of his machine well-oiled. No decision can be made without consulting the Mr. Big of the day.

Take as an example the National Rifle Association, who virtually vetoed proposals made by Trump to prohibit bump-stocks or placing an age limit for buying firearms. Now bear in mind you cannot drink until you are 21 but the “right” of owning a rifle cannot be disputed. These modest proposals were shot down as somehow too radical for prime time. Trump floated them and then drowned them on cue.

Far from being some wild-eyed would-be prophet of reaction, Trump, in reality, is obsessed with the moment — in other words, he is a hack. As with the old joke about Boston’s mayor in the seventies, Kevin White suggested when he was slapped at birth, his first sounds were “Whaddaya hear?” Even Trump’s actions toward Kim Jung Un appear a mix of crisis and joviality. “Little Rocket Man” is not so bad, Trump intones — be nice and good things will occur. No wonder the South Korean president is visiting Pyongyang.

This erratic behavior recalls Dennis Kucinich’s brief mayorship in Cleveland, again in the 1970s. Or maybe Boss Hague, Richard Daley, perhaps the old New Orleans Ring, add on Carmine DeSapio’s fading Tammany Hall in the 1950s — they are similar to Trump’s. His politics is personal, familiar and close to home — not a bit like actually running a country.

Trump cannot make a decision without checking with donors, buddies, Ivanka or even the doorman at Mar-a-Lago. So lost is the big boss that he gets mad at having his power clipped but goes along with whatever is handed him by the generals. Tariffs, remarks on bombs, are all meant to leverage at least on the surface. Actually, it is a manifestation of weakness. Moreover, his opponents, both foreign and domestic, know his rhythms and act accordingly.

The president’s big show to this point was meant to support his power as a negotiator. But since he has no real ideas, Trump cannot really offer much except Republican boilerplate. Thus he gets more and more involved with the most bizarre of parties. Take Ben Sasse of Nebraska — the slaughter at Parkland did not move him, but the specter of ending free trade did. Reaching out of the book of Rand — Ayn, that is — Sasse embraces the libertarian goal of a world without people, except those who were the self-proclaimed elect. Poor Trump, at least he has a sense of humor — perverse perhaps — but he is not the great prince of grimness like Sasse.

If Trump continues on his on-again, off-again style of governance he will not only doom his own presidency but severely set back his causes.