Members Only | March 28, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump Steps on a Rake

The president's "post-Mueller" victory lap lasted a day.

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Forgive me for repeating myself but it bears saying again. Most people most of the time have something more important to do than pay attention to politics. This is not an insult. This is a fair and accurate description of empirical reality.

Journalists spend a good deal of time gathering facts, crafting arguments, and otherwise trying to understand what’s going on. But normal people with normal lives—jobs, dating, kids, school, church, bowling, whatever—do not do any of that. They pay attention when it’s time to pay attention, which is to say during election season.

This bears repeating if only to remind us of an occupational hazard facing journalists. All of us every day are on a hamster wheel. There’s almost never time to reflect. As a result, we run the risk of believing that what’s normal for us is normal for everyone when in fact the opposite is more likely true. Put another way, we journalists don’t tend to think of ourselves as elite, because our profession aims to serve democracy. But c’mon. That’s just the way it is. Part of doing our jobs well, part of informing the citizenry, is being honest with everyone, including ourselves.

The president faces the same hazard only magnified a billion times over minus any shred of honesty and self-awareness. Donald Trump is himself a media creation. Hours and hours and hours are spent daily watching Fox, retweeting its programming and otherwise assessing how he’s doing as president by the response he’s getting.

On Monday morning, the Republicans were all like suck it libtards. On Monday evening, they were like what the hell is he doing?

For two years, he’s been on defense, raging on Twitter about Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia. But now, after the attorney general released a summary of Mueller’s findings, and after the press more or less spoke in unison, saying he’d been vindicated, Trump must have felt he had the advantage, that he’s on offense, that he can operate with impunity long desired.

I think this explains, or comes pretty close to explaining, the amazing turn of events between Sunday and today. Here’s what could have happened: Trump could have spent the week taking a rare victory lap, dunking on this and that House Democrat (whoever was needling him of late) while the Republican Party mounted an assault on the mainstream press, shaming it into doubting what has been a stellar performance since 2017, in order to get better coverage in the run up to the presidential election.

At the very least, this could have been the week when grievance and rage flew on autopilot. But then what does the president do? He steps on a rake. On Monday morning, the Republicans were all like suck it libtards. By Monday evening, they were like what the hell is he doing? That’s when the White House came out in favor of a judge’s ruling invalidating the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. Cue rake.

I don’t need to remind you the Democratic Party won a wave election, because the Republicans came within a vote of repealing Obamacare, a federal law that was terribly unpopular while its namesake was in office but that suddenly—and I mean within-a-month suddenly—became popular once he left. The Republicans were on safe ground while nipping and tucking the health care law, but after promising for years to get rid of it, they found they had to go all the way. Fortunately, a senator with a brain tumor that would later kill him stopped the GOP’s self-disembowelment. All’s well, though, since no one but the president is willing to blame the dead for their failure.

After the Democrats won big last year, you’d think the administration would let health care lie for a bit while savoring a moment that came om Sunday when it appeared Trump had finally gotten out from under a cloud of illegitimacy. But alas, no.

The president watched, and he watched, and he watched his TV, and he saw the mainstream press reporting his “vindication,” the Democrats on their heels, the Republicans mounting an assault on “the enemy of the people,” and he forgot something: that most people most of the time have something more important to do than pay attention to politics. Worse, he said to himself: I can do anything now. I’m going to do what John McCain kept me from doing. I’m going to get rid of Obamacare.

Fact: Every poll released since Sunday shows public opinion unchanged. A majority still doesn’t like Donald Trump. Whatever “vindication” exists, it exists entirely within a TV context that gave birth to this president. And because this “vindication” is a media fiction, it’s a very bad thing on which to base a decision to get rid of a law that’s very popular among the very people who put Trump in office in the first place.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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