I’m a liberal. When Barack Obama was president I looked at his detractors and thought they were nuts. It was clear to me that he was never trying to take anyone’s guns, or restrict free speech, or make the world a more dangerous place. There was a real argument among my group as to whether or not his policies did make any of these things happen, but liberals never thought that these were his goals. His detractors, on the other hand, felt for sure that it was exactly his goal to take guns, put conservatives into concentration camps, and welcome suicide bombers with open arms. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Now that Trump is in office, I’m getting a taste of how conservatives felt when Obama was in office. With an important distinction.
Trump’s latest twitter tirade, aimed at his Justice Department and the judicial branch of the government, can be read in two ways. To his detractors, him saying that his travel ban is in fact a travel ban, and not something else, is evidence he’s becoming entirely unhinged. This is the opposite of what his lawyers have been spending their last months arguing. He’s using all caps in his tweets, not a strategy generally connected with a calm, assured demeanor. He’s blaming the Justice Department for the watered down travel ban, when he was the one who signed in. To his detractors, this is plenty of evidence that not only is not presidential, it may be time for his family to consider assisted living for him. To his supporters, however, this is more evidence of how clever and canny he is. He has put himself in a position where, when the inevitable next terrorist attack happens, he can blame the Justice Department and the judiciary. It won’t matter if the terrorists would have been stopped, or even slowed down, by his travel ban. He will argue that any attack at all is evidence that we need his ban. Hell, during a recent tweetstorm he brought up gun control in the context of the attack in London, where the attackers didn’t use guns. When I heard it my first thought was, “Is he arguing that it should be easier for terrorists to get guns?” Of course he wasn’t. But it was a useful moment to make us think that maybe Londoners would have been safer had they been as well armed as Americans. Reality had nothing to do with it. It never does.
Now, there is a critical missing piece here. His detractors think his tweets are evidence of a slipping mind. His supporters think this is a great strategy. What’s missing is anyone thinking that either is ban or his tweets actually make us safer. For a guy who campaigned on the idea that he alone could keep us safe, not a lot of people are saying that is something he is strongly pursuing. The question of how good a job he is doing at being president. The answer is he’s doing about as well as when he was a businessman. Sure, his partners and businesses may have gone bankrupt, but he would always walk away unscathed, feeling like a winner when those not in his inner circle saw him as a clown.