The president of the United States wakes up some mornings seemingly determined to convince as many people as possible that he’s unsuited to high office.
Fortunately for him, he has a Twitter account allowing him to act on this impulse immediately and without any filter.
On Wednesday, Trump retweeted three videos from an apparatchik of an extremist party in Britain purporting to show acts of violence by Muslims. One of them is reportedly a fake.
He followed up with a tweet calling for the firing of “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough on the basis of a noxious conspiracy theory. (A woman with a heart condition died in Scarborough’s district office when he was a congressman. Ever since, a kooky fringe has accused him of murder.)
It’s difficult to exaggerate how mind-blowing these tweets are.
If a friend on Facebook shared the fake Muslim video, you’d hesitate to credit any of his opinions going forward, let alone bestow on him the biggest megaphone on planet Earth.
If a candidate for town council called for an investigation of Scarborough for allegedly murdering one of his interns, you’d doubt his fitness to decide whether to approve a zoning permit for an Applebee’s, let alone to wield the world’s most fearsome nuclear arsenal.
Yet Trump’s presidency operates on a largely separate track than his Twitter feed and his other off-script interjections and pronouncements. His domestic policy is so conventional that it could have been cooked up by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — and, in fact, it was. He’s pursued a largely status quo foreign policy, except more cautious than Barack Obama’s and, especially, George W. Bush’s.
Amid the miasma of manufactured controversies, Trump’s presidency is, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said of Wagner’s music, “better than it sounds.”
A common criticism of Trump is that, via his attacks on offending journalistic outlets and jurists, he’s endangering the Constitution. He’s certainly violating norms of how a president should conduct himself and speak. But if you got news only of Trump’s official acts and knew nothing of his ongoing commentary, you’d think a rigorously rules-bound president occupied the White House.
The defining feature of Trump’s judicial nominees is a firm commitment to interpreting the Constitution and the laws as written. Trump has rolled back Obama administrative actions on immigration, the environment and health care that at best pushed the envelope of executive authority and at worst were frankly unconstitutional.
On the legislative front, Trump is getting closer to his first major victory, in pursuit of the stereotypical Republican policy goal of deficit-financed tax cuts.
In the real world, the economy is growing at a nice clip, and the stock market is humming along, showing no signs that it believes that the republic is about to be destroyed by a “Mad King.”
None of this is to suggest that Trump’s governing and his tweets are entirely distinguishable. Some of the tweets have had consequences, and, if nothing else, they are a dismaying window into his state of mind.
The firing of James Comey was a product of the kind of grievance Trump displays on Twitter, and he’s going to pay a price for it for a long time. Trump’s missives obsessively attacking CNN have created a pall over the Department of Justice’s suit to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger. The specter of the confrontation with North Korea playing out in insults over Twitter is unsettling, to say the least.
But the tweets don’t constitute the sum total of the administration. It’s possible that Trump sees Twitter — and his other provocations — as a way to stir the pot, entertain himself, stoke his base, flog his enemies and vent his frustrations separate and distinct from decisions of government, undertaken under the influence of, by and large, impressive, well-meaning advisers.
Trump’s presidency is much better than his Twitter feed. Although he stands ready and willing to convince you otherwise, 280 characters at a time.