Here’s a cheerful thought for all good patriots to chew on: What if this past week in Trumplandia is a preview of what a routine one will look like? You know, from crazy brawls with the press and our own spooks to funky-smelling conflicts of interest burgeoning like mushrooms in the newly damp Oval Office rug. Plus access to the nuclear codes—newly rechristened the “Celebrity App,” or so our nonexistent D.C. sources tell us—to add zesty public interest worldwide once he’s sworn in.
Believe it or not (and most Trumpistas won’t), a number of traditonal-minded media outlets would almost certainly be happy to get busy “normalizing” the Orange One’s imminent presidency… if he’d just let them. Everybody in the capital thrives on the illusion that it’s always just business as usual inside their Rubik’s-cube burg. But every time the faintest hint of Beltway same-old-same-old risks marring the uniqueness of Trump’s transition, another splashy bucketful of Day-Glo-colored elephant vomit hits the fan.
It started late on Tuesday, when half of America found itself attending to Obama’s farewell address with one eye and googling “golden showers” with the other. It didn’t help that our outgoing president’s much-hyped adios was a bit of a snooze. He veered close to Oscar acceptance-speech territory once he wrapped things up by hailing Michelle, Joe Biden, his kids and the little people who’d helped make it all happen.
That couldn’t compete with CNN’s scoop about an oppo-research intelligence dossier laying out Trump’s murky Russia ties that’s apparently been circulating among the privileged few since last summer. CNN’s report omitted the scandalous particulars, for the very good reason that they couldn’t be corroborated—and, for the record, still haven’t been. But that’s what BuzzFeed’s for, and the document’s contents soon went public anyway. Twitter then exploded with a gazillion sixth-grade pee jokes. If by some chance you don’t already know why, you must be renting the Unabomber’s old cabin these days.
We may get nostalgic down the road for the days when spectacles like this one still seemed odd.
Everybody’s gleeful fixation on the waterworks bit—an admittedly attention-catching paragraph of a 35-page report—effectively trivialized the larger issue. In a way, that may work to Trump’s benefit. If Vladimir Putin really does have video of the future Leader of the Free World playing strange games with hookers in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton, well, okay. But that’s still only one piece of what the report, stitched together by a former British spy-turned-freelance sleuth with the satisfying name of Christopher Steele, describes as a years-long Russian campaign to get their hooks into him, from allegedly compromising business deals to collusion with Trump’s campaign. If any of this surreal flapdoodle is true, the incoming President of the United States is vulnerable to being coerced to do whatever Putin wants him to—and we don’t know how long that’s been the case.
Nor do we know why we’re only learning of the report’s existence now. (In today’s world, that it stayed secret for months and months is flat-out amazing.) But the release’s timing looks an awful lot like the U.S. intelligence community’s way of telling their incoming boss, “You denigrate and fuck with us at your peril.” Trump’s preposterous “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” rhetoric aside (“Welcome to Washington, chum” would be a lot more like it), he isn’t wrong to suspect that our intelligence services aren’t exactly advertising their loyalty to the newbie.
Anyone betting that Trump would react by cancelling his Wednesday morning press conference, his first since last July, was in for a surprise, though. Not only did he show up (looking awful, by the way, as if his brain had gout and it had spread to his face), but the whole show was, in its Bizarro World way, masterly.
Whether he was harking back to his campaign rallies to “explain” why Mexico will pay for his border wall, shrewdly conflating Buzzfeed’s dubious journalistic ethics with CNN’s rather more responsible reporting, getting into a shouting match with CNN’s Jim Acosta or babbling about “beautiful” this and “fantastic” that, he was barely coherent most of the time. Yet that didn’t matter, since Trump isn’t incoherent so much as he’s post-coherent. The whole point was to muddle everyone’s perceptions so completely with deflection, bombast and bluff that only his confidence registered, and he succeeded at that. Disarmingly, he even found a way to allude to the mental picture on everyone’s mind without mentioning it directly: “I’m very much of a germaphobe, by the way” (which is actually true).
We may get nostalgic down the road for the days when spectacles like this one still seemed odd, from Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka lined up to symbolically “receive” the Trump Organization from Dad to the impressive-looking display stack of legal documents, whose contents never got explained and which many believed to be fake. Then came the long interlude when attorney Sherri Fallon took over to explain how Trump will remove himself from his business interests. Such was the press conference’s ostensible purpose, not that many people could believe that all the mumbo-jumbo is a guarantee he won’t be fully in the loop about everything done in his brand’s name.
Naturally, the press conference was also timed to ensure we’d pay no attention to his cabinet picks’ simultaneous confirmation hearings in D.C., since Jeff Sessions’s racist baggage is every bit as awkward as Rex Tillerson’s own long-standing Putin connection. Calling all this smoke and mirrors is an insult to cigars and our own reflection, but never mind. Trump’s real response to the intelligence establishment’s “Welcome to Washington” was “Welcome to Trumplandia.”