The Trump Thing: Punishment

The new president does not seem happy unless he is punishing some person or some group. The vibe coming from the White House is a punitive one. He and his crew are going to teach California a lesson for objecting to Trump’s views. Today, he offered to destroy the career of a Texas state Senator who challenged a local sheriff’s policy. Last week, they were blocking entry to America by people who had been scrutinized and then approved to come here. He got a Secretary of Education who wants to dismantle the federal role in education as we have known it and then convert it to something else (I used the word “convert” on purpose). Regulations and regulators of business? Get rid of ’em. The polls are unfavorable to Trump? They’re all fake. Get rid of them, too. Affordable Care Act? Blow that up. European Union? What good is it?

I did not agree with President Ronald Reagan 99 percent of the time, but at times he had a lightness about him. Trump is dark. The smiles are smirks of revenge. The air is full of resentment. His main man, Bannon, said as much about himself, bragging: “Darkness is good.” These guys talk and behave like movie villains. “The Godfather,” “Batman,” “Star Wars.” The trouble for us is that they have real juice now. But they don’t have the maturity to handle it. Power without wisdom is a dangerous formula. Power warped by ambition and an inclination to punish is sinister. It’s disturbing to see the whole national Republican political machine grinding away in service to Trump. We thought they all despised him. Who knew? They are so desperate to control the wheel in Washington DC that they are going along with the angry political theatrics in the White House. They are going to press every advantage. And in so doing, you can count on them overreaching. They are already over-interpreting their “mandate” at the presidential level. I have to give them credit for playing to win in the states with governors and state legislatures. The Democrats are weak, never mind excuses about rigged districts and voter suppression. They have the numbers nationwide as seen in the presidential popular vote, but that’s about it. The Democratic Party needs a total overhaul.

It hasn’t been a month that Trump is in office, and there’s talk of impeachment. I’m 63, and I’ve never seen anything like this. In 1968, the nation was torn up with conflict of all kinds, but when President Nixon took office the federal government transitioned from President Johnson in a normal way. Later, we would learn of Nixon’s tricks and crimes, which led to him resigning, but that was six years later, 1974. With Trump we have instant discord. And what does Bannon tell the reporters? Shut up and listen. It’s all harsh. Rough. Pushy. Bullying. Threats. A federal judge stalls an executive order. Attack the judiciary. Undermine the courts by slamming the “so-called judge.” Don’t like the facts in photos of the inauguration crowd? Haul in the Director of the National Park Service and demand different pictures.

If the situation was not so serious, the behavior would be laughable. Schoolyard antics. It’s a relief to see “Saturday Night Live” skewering Trump and company for jokes. Except that’s just a distraction, even if it is one that is needed. But a distraction while the plotters stay up late in the West Wing and plan the next shock treatment. Can this really last? Are there no grown-ups in the GOP who can stand up to this man? When it was time for Nixon to go, a handful of senior Republican elected officials went to the White House and told him the truth. With Trump, the political consequences could be enormous for Republicans who are candidates in 2018. Trump won’t be on the ballot. He’s poking a hundred beehives. Does he really think he and his crowd cannot get stung?