I probably picked the wrong weekend for a long car trip with my satellite radio, the weekend of Donald Trump's "Tweets Heard "Round the World"!!! Hour after hour, the pundits on CNN or MSNBC struggled so mightily to explain the inexplicable -- the pre-breakfast Twitter blast from the 45th President of the United States accusing the 44th President of the United States of bugging his office at Trump Tower, Watergate-style, at the height of the 2016 election campaign.
What did President Trump really mean?, the pundits asked. And asked. And asked. Now that Trump is the leader of the free world (whatever that even means anymore), did he use his awesome access to high-level information to learn the secrets of the FBI or other agencies that could have been listening? Or was he making it all up? And what was he really trying to do in accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping his campaign?
Look, the reality is that trying to detect motive, or some grand strategy, with Donald Trump is a fool's errand. The Donald is usually living proof of Occam's razor, that the best explanation is usually the simplest one. The guy had a terrible week in which he got hammered on the Russia scandal, then tossed and turned all night in his plush Mar-a-Lago bedroom, got up before dawn, turned on Fox News and scrolled through Breitbart News -- and took out all his frustrations on one of his favorite targets, a kind of Twitter blast from the past. The idea that it might be more than a little improper for the sitting president to accuse his predecessor of lawbreaking -- especially with no proof -- never crossed his mind.
There's no way to minimize the two things that everybody's talking about this weekend. The growing list of Trump inner circle members who met with Russia's ambassador or other Russia officials and insiders during the campaign, the non-stop lying about who met with whom and what they talked about, and new evidence that Trump changed the GOP platform at its convention in Cleveland to make it more pro-Russia all grows more incriminating every day. If there's fire behind all the smoke, if the Trump campaign did somehow collude with Russia to commit a crime -- computer hacking -- to influence the election, then it's game, set and match. Donnie, we hardly knew ye.
The related plotline, based on the president's bizarre and seemingly unfounded, or at least badly sourced, rant is the idea that the man holding the nuclear codes might also be not all there mentally. I bring this up because this weekend the Wall Street Journal's Pulitzer Prize-winning (and conservative) columnist Bret Stephens tweeted (and later deleted it)..is the president mentally ill (just as the New York Daily News' front page, "NUTS!" was hitting the street)?
I actually think -- unless Trump does something like moon the Joint Chiefs of Staff or claim that Egypt's pyramids were build for grain storage (wait, that guy's the HUD secretary, never mind) -- that such conversations are counter-productive. I don't think people -- even top psychiatrists -- should be diagnosing people -- even the president -- from long distance. Despite all the blather about the 25th Amendment (as if Trump's Cabinet or the toady GOP-led Congress would actually move against their glorious leader), the American political system isn't really set up to determine whether people are mentally ill, nor should it be. It IS set up, though, to determine whether a president is committing crimes or doing other terrible things. And isn't Trump and his crew giving us plenty of ammunition, especially in the "doing terrible things" department.
The way-too-much cable-TV pundit blather I heard these last few days was almost 100 percent about Trump's tweets, and close to 0 percent about the OTHER scandal of the new administration, the rapid gutting of environmental regulations and rules on safety and consumer protection, with plans to slash pollution enforcement and unleash a human rights nightmare on undocumented migrants and their families. Despite the focus on disarray in Trump's West Wing, the presidential temper tantrums and legislative stalling on big issues like Obamacare, Team Trump now has both hands firmly on the steering wheel of the vast administrative state -- and it is driving America into a ditch, ginning up immigrant fear to satisfy Trump's base even as middle-class Americans are getting flattened at the expense of Big Business.
Consider these developments in the last few days:
-- The Trump administration is working on a budget that would gut environmental enforcement in this country -- slashing $2 billion and 3,000 jobs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For example, an EPA program that seeks to reduce algae blooms and pollution that threatens the Great Lakes -- yes, the same region where voters gave Trump his Electoral College victory -- would be reduced from $300 million to just $10 million.
-- Team Trump also wants to cut a whopping $500 million or so from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program that sends satellites aloft to monitor extreme weather and the effects of climate change. The former head of the agency told the Washington Post, “Cutting NOAA’s satellite budget will compromise NOAA’s mission of keeping Americans safe from extreme weather and providing forecasts that allow businesses and citizens to make smart plans.” But given the president's hostility to global warming science, that was probably the idea.
-- In the same vein, Big Auto asked the Trump administration for help in rolling back tough rules on curbing tailpipe emissions and converting to electric cars that would have reduced America's greenhouse gas emissions by about one-third. The Trump administration asked industry, in so many words, how fast would you like us to get that out to you?
-- Those rules won't get as much attention as Trump's looming order on a new travel ban -- ignoring findings from his own Homeland Security Department that visitors from the affected countries aren't committing terrorist acts -- or his immigration crackdown. While Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) continues to operate on steroids in major American cities, the administration is weighing a new policy that would separate migrant children from their mothers at border crossings. "That type of thing is where we depart from border security and get into violating human rights," U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said.
That type of thing also used to be major news -- but not in a time when we are so easily distracted by President Trump's roving thumbs. But the reality is that -- for all the media coverage of a White House implosion -- the Trump administration really is "a fine-tuned machine" when it comes to serving its corporate benefactors and gutting any pretense of regulatory oversight. I did, however, add the word "(almost)" to the headline of this piece because the New York Times is out tonight with a really good overview of all the favors that the new president's crew has performed for Big Business, even as they poison the air and the water that Trump's blue-collar voters ingest.
The newspaper chronicled more than 90 rules affecting the public's health or safety or protecting consumers that have been rolled back, eliminated or gutted in just the first six weeks of the Trump administration. It's a startling change -- one that the Times called the "leading edge" of top Trump adviser Steve Bannon's scheme for "the destruction of the administrative state."
I guess you could say that screwing over the little guy to benefit billionaire campaign donors and corporations isn't exactly brand new -- but it's never been done this fast, this blatantly, and with this little compassion. I don't know if Trump's policies are "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," but I do consider them a crime against human decency. And even if Trump were to be miraculously impeached over Russia or gets 25th Amendment-ed to a farm upstate, do you think that a President Mike Pence would care a flying fig about the purity of your tap water?
Sometimes I think about the launch of the Trump administration in terms of Ronald Reagan and his famous 1984 re-election ad, "Morning in America." But morning in Donald Trump's America is a place where the Houston sunrise struggles to break through the smog, where coal plants are up early dumping toxic goo into your streams, and Latin American families hide behind closed curtains, fearing a knock on their door. And the worst part is that the sun isn't even over the treetops yet.