President Trump at Ebb Tide

Trump

There is that moment when you stand at the edge of the ocean with your feet in the water, when before you can see it, you feel it: the water and the sand start rushing back out, precursor to the retraction of the sea. Not the beginning or the end; the shift in the middle part of the cycle signaling change.

That is what the last few days have felt like for the Trump Administration.

It was predictable, but the suddenness of when it happened still caught many off guard. The momentary success of the rare bi-partisan piece of legislation in the First Steps act was one piece of news. The announcement of troop withdrawals from Syria was another. Then there is the semi-annual government shutdown theater, this time with the twist of President Trump making good on a threat to not sign a bill that didn’t have his wall in some form or fashion included. So off dashed the representatives for a late evening vote to change the continuing resolution, and now we wait on the Senate.

Then came the news that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is stepping down.

In truly Trumpian fashion, it was first announced on the presidents Twitter feed as a “retirement,” which seemed plausible enough as Mattis had been on rocky terms with the White House for some months. But soon thereafter when Mattis’ resignation letter became public, along with reports that he resigned after meeting with the president on the suddenly announced Syrian withdrawal, it was clear that was not the case.

Such news at the end of an insanely busy news day was bound to cause much reaction. Pundits, media, and opponents of the president have been longing for that first Trump Administration official of note to “stand up” to Trump. They will be disappointed in James Mattis, who, while blunt in his letter, remained professional and will not be fronting the resistance anytime soon. He said all he had to say there, and with his 40+ years of service. The fact that his letter, simply stating the obvious while maintaining decorum in tone, stood out so much speaks more to the time and leadership we currently have than to the old Marine general. It does seem a pivotal moment.

What it isn’t is the end of the Trump Administration, as the White House’s opponents were hoping. Nor is it a betterment of the president’s position, as the die-hard MAGA folks insisted. The first will happen at some point; the later is doubtful but not impossible.

But it is a noticeable change.

With Mattis’ depature comes an end to the narrative started during the transition by some that sought to offset the Presidents obvious faults by pointing out the quality of some of the people that would surround him. Mattis, John Kelly first at Homeland then as Chief of Staff, Tillerson at State, and 64 other senior administrations official have come, gone, or are going soon. The incoming Democratic majority in the house is promising to investigate anything with the faintest hint of Trumpian impropriety. Though the Senate saw small Republican gains, the president’s relationship with Majority Leader McConnell is testy at best, despite the latter being responsible for the president’s triumphs of two successful SCOTUS nominations. With impeachment looming, the frenemy Senator from Kentucky might also become the president’s last line of defense. The White House that came to the levers of power with total party control of the government now sees a future with little hope of congressional cooperation and little to show for the two years of Republican trifecta rule. It will, for the president, the country, and all of us, get worse before it gets better.

But that is for another day. Today many are noticing for the first time the shifting sands and rushing water of the ebb tide. Some falsely conclude it is low tide, that things can not and will not become even more complicated, more divisive, and reach an even higher pitch of rhetoric and discord. It is not low tide. Nor is it the beginning of a renewed red wave, if such a thing existed at all, to sweep the president back into a position of strength. This is the middle, the turning, the beginning of the hard part. It’s the feeling of inevitability at your feet, running by regardless of what is wanted, dreamed of, or promised. The tide doesn’t care.

The only question left is who will still be standing when the tide comes back in.


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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50 thoughts on “President Trump at Ebb Tide

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at this last week or two as a turning point. A giant new pile of legal troubles, a extra dose of chaos and then an abrupt impulsive move to distract attention. I’m glad we are pulling out of Syria though doing it in the stupidest possible way isn’t the best. But there will be so many more legal troubles and investigation of Trumpian corruption and there are so few other good things for him to do to distract attention.

    Not that i doubt the ability of MAGA’s to do a 180 on their views but there was such a drumbeat for going into Syria by many on the right that the abrupt departure will jar a few brain pans out of whack. There is a loud group who seem to be pro Forever War. On the positive side though is that ISIS was significantly degraded a while ago so it’s not like they have even been a major issue for a while.

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    • In fairness to the MAGAnauts, they all seem very ‘yas queen’ on Trump’s Syria decision.

      It’s the anti-anti-Trumpers that have expressed the most skepticism. (and the Never Trump stalwarts saying ‘told ya so’)

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  2. Something that’s starting to dawn on a lot of people is something that dawned on me way back the start of all this: The fact the president supposedly can’t be indicted doesn’t actually mean anything WRT Donald Trump.

    Why? Because Donald Trump has astonishing levels of exposure. The Trump Organization is not him. Neither is (was) the Trump Foundation. Or the Trump Campaign. Or the 2017 Presidential Inauguration Committee, something people have just started paying attention to despite the fact it’s been pointed out to be extremely fishy from the start. All those entities can be investigated. All of them can be forced to pay fines. None of them have any sort of executive privilege, or really any claims to privacy at all. That’s the problem with doing all your wrongdoing via fictional people.

    Likewise, because Trump is so toxic, half the people around him are the same criminal conmen he’s been surrounding himself with his entire life, and know basically everything. And basically every crime he’s ever committed his family has been right next to him. And they can be arrested and indicted.

    This is why I laugh when people claims the Democrats in the House will overreach and try to impeach Trump and become unpopular. No, they’re not. They’re going to investigate Trump, and start handing information over to law enforcement. He won’t be indicted. He’ll just be Unindicted Co-conspirator in all those cases.

    I’m sure Trump will not care about his ‘friends’ (It will turn out he barely knew any of them anyway), I’m not entirely sure if he’ll care about his family, but I am 100% sure he’ll care about his money. And, more importantly, I’m fairly certain that he is functionally so incompetent that when he loses his support system he will not actually be able to function.

    The OP here talks about the fact that we just lost all the ‘grownups in the room’ that were supposed to lead him into good decisions, but it’s going to get weird when he starts losing ‘the childish idiots in the room’ also, and the other childish-idiots/political conmen who consider coming on board realize that the level of exposure that will bring to them isn’t worth it.

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  3. The horrific yet amazing thing about Trump is how much any of this would have sunk a normal President. There are the scandals. There are the temper tantrums which really do make him look like a spoiled brat. The absolute ignorance. His inability to keep anyone decent and/or talented in his administration. The people who remain are a combination of grifters and charlatans or die-hard ideologues like the wretched Miller.

    Yet his 40 percent popularity rating might just be enough to keep him through 2020 and maybe until 2024 because that 40 percent might be spread in such a way that allows the freakish aspects of the electoral college to work their black magic.

    I do think that 2018 was a wave election for Democrats but it is also clear that enough places are gerrymandered to survive wave elections. See the Wisconsin state legislature as an example. We also see that plenty of GOPers are beyond the idea of a peaceful transfer of power when they lose. See the attempts to strip the Wisconsin, Michigan, and previously North Carolina state legislatures to strip Democratic governors and other officials of any power.

    So maybe this is a low for Trump but I think he will manage to stay around and not learn anything. It is a horribly partisan thing to say but the modern GOP reminds of me Tocqueville’s comments on the ancien regime, “they remember everything and learn nothing.” So any defeat or insult gets burned in their memories but they never remember why they were handed a defeat in the first place.

    GOP Delenda Est.

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  4. Vox believes that Fox News is the cause of the Shutdown:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/12/21/18148913/fox-news-conservative-shutdown-trump-wall-congress

    But this week, many of the right’s biggest names were more or less united on one particular issue, with Fox News pundits and some of Trump’s most important surrogates and supporters leading the way: build a wall, or you’re done. As Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said on her show Wednesday night, “Not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration.”

    I think the right-wing which largely consists of white people over fifty (possibly mainly over 60) has been on an extended temper tantrum since Obama’s election in 2008. Maybe before. They hate that this country is getting younger, browner, less heterosexual normative, less nominally Christian, etc. They hate that a major political party can seemingly win huge victories without courting to them. Lindsay Graham famously said that the GOP needs to find ways to appeal to more voters because the number of angry, white guys is limited. There are some young rabid conservatives like Shapiro and Miller and the Breitbarters but not enough for victory. So seemingly the response is to self-destruct the nation instead.

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  5. What strikes me is how shockingly little the GOP accomplished during their period of full control. I mean they dinged up the paint on the ACA a bit more, got 2 supreme court judges any Republican president and Senate would have gotten and… that’s about it really?

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      • The deduction reform was also nice.

        Can you flesh that out a bit? Because I have yet to determine whether I’m going to end up to the good, bad, or indifferent.

        To explain, last spring, while everyone was talking about homeowners in blue states getting screwed (not me), another provision which does affect me got little notice. And that’s significant because I didn’t even find out about it until late in the year.

        The tax code has long had a provision for workers who spend lots of time away from home and are subject to hours-of-service regulations — truck drivers, pilots, railway workers, etc. We’ve had a choice between being paid a per diem, where part of your pay is reduced but non-taxable, like the housing allowance I got in the military, or getting your full pay and then taking a special meals & entertainment deduction for the extra expense you incur living on the road. The way it generally worked out was that you were better off with the per diem if you were a renter but better off with the M&E deduction if you were a homeowner because that combined with mortgage interest and property tax deduction would exceed the standard deduction. (That, and the per diem was never really calculated sensibly imo anyway.)

        So the tax bill eliminated that special M&E provision for HOS employees and apparently changed the rules for per diem. Which could be either good or bad for me personally, it’s hard to say given what else changed, but it sure would have been nice if somebody would have said something. Around June/July I started getting messages from the company bragging about a new per diem program. I was like, that’s nice but I use the M&E deduction. Then around August/Sept sometime I get one of those messages but this one asks, Did you know you can’t deduct meal expenses? Uh… Fuck No I didn’t! So I immediately sign up for the per diem program (which actually is calculated sensibly now). But I’m going to have to report substantially higher taxable income this year than I would if I had made the switch in January.

        I predict a lot of truckers are in for a rude surprise when they do their taxes. That was a BIG deduction that went away and I have no idea if the new per diem really makes up for it. In any case it sure would have been nice to find out about it in January.

        So deduction reform? Not a fan personally. What do you like about it?

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            • I do appreciate his impulses to get out of the middle east

              If I were a Trumpist talking head on The Shows, I’d be defending Trump on exactly this point (his impulsivity) since it’s the source of most of the criticism. Eg., it was only by being impulsive and *not* debating with the various stakeholders that the US could extricate itself from Syria. Turn the criticism into a strength. And only then get into cost of staying vs cost of leaving and so on.

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              • Keep in mind Obama ran in part on extricating the US from these intractable conflicts. His willingness to take the stakeholders seriously combined with the expediency of including Clinton in his administration got him sucked in the way it sucks in virtually every president. Thankfully he didn’t do anything approaching the scale of Bush’s stupidity but there’s a good argument he moved the needle on use of military force even further from democratic accountability.

                Even assuming Trump makes a hash of the withdrawal, and even if its for a lot of the wrong reasons, I’ll take this every day of the week if we truly do get out. His harshest critics on this, including from the center left, are themselves bloodthirsy war mongers, ideologues, and profiteers in their own right who would have us feeding this monster forever. If this is the only way out so be it.

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                • Exactly so. And along those lines apparently Obama let Mattis go because they didn’t agree on troop presence and involvement in Syria and related. So in that sense, not dissimilar to Trump’s disagreements with Mattis.

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                    • Yeah… I thought this one paragraph got to the root of it all:

                      There comes a point when a president has to say no to the neo-imperial blob, to cut bait in wars that have become ends in themselves, generating the very problems they were launched to resolve. There is never a good time to do this. There wasn’t in Vietnam and there isn’t in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Sometimes, you just have to do it. I wish Obama had been able to. But he got trapped in agonizing rationalizations of the indefensible, paid too much respect to the architects of failure (not to speak of torture), and thereby failed after eight long years to fulfill his core campaign promise to disengage from these quagmires. Maybe it takes an impulsive, dangerous nutjob like Trump to finally do it, to end the wars the American people want to end.

                      Imagine asking for a withdrawal plan and every time you get some sort of giant “well, actually Mr. President” in the form of three options that are essentially 1) Surge, 2) Withdraw when conditions are perfect, and 3) Estimated time-frame to begin strategic withdrawal is Next Presidential Election plus 6 months.

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  6. Mattis’ resignation on the heels of Trump’s withdrawal tweet coupled with his elegantly written resignation letter got all the press (as they should have) but the real political juice in all this, imo, is McConnell’s response, where he identified the specific values he shares with Mattis as opposed to Trump. As you say, McConnell may be the last line of defense if the new House were to vote to impeach, but in addition to that McConnell’s public statements constituted the first significant public rebuke of the Trump by a member of his party with real power. McConnell wants conservative judges appointed, tax cuts, and to keep his caucus in power. My guess is that McConnell believes Trump’s foreign policy moves don’t play well politically in the short term *or* the long term, which jeopardizes his own political priorities. All that said, he won’t become an enemy of Trump but rather, at worst (or best, depending on pov), an ally who’s support will possibly wain over time until he can no longer defend what he views as the politically indefensible.

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    • Adding to that, a lot of people have been using the expression “the wheels are coming off” to describe US foreign policy in light of Mattis’ resignation, implying that Trump’s *agenda* has been derailed by loss of wheels. Personally, I think that view is based on a confusion. Trump’s agenda was and continues to be to derail existing policies, so when folks talk about wheels coming off they really need to be more specific. In the case of US foreign policy wrt Mattis’ departure, it’s more accurate to say Trump has caused the wheels to come off existing institutional policy and not his own. His overarching policy agenda is destructive, not constructive.

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    • My guess is that McConnell believes Trump’s foreign policy moves don’t play well politically in the short term *or* the long term

      That may or may not be right in terms of what McConnell believes… but simply surveying mainstream and conservative sites, the worm has turned on the old Neo-Con hawkishness and it is McConnell et al. whose foreign policy doesn’t play well now.

      As to McConnell simply running things through the “What’s good for McConnell” filter… sure.

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      • I think there’s much less appetite for abandoning our allies and cozying up to our enemies than Trumpists would lead us to believe. McConnell, I think rightly, sees that the ever-ensmallening Trump base isn’t going to be cabable of carrying the day in 2020. Could be wrong, of course.

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        • The political cost for “abandoning” Ghani, Erdogan, Barzani and these Syrian allies?

          Let me get my other hand ready just in case I run out of fingers on the first one while counting the cost. :-)

          I mean, sure it sounds worse to say abandoning allies, but after 17 years in Afghanistan, no authorization at all for Syria, and being “allies” with both Turkey and and non-existent Kurdistan – who are on a collision course – those are pretty much the definition of “allies” we should abandon.

          There wasn’t support for these allies in 2013 when Obama thought it might be a good idea to dive into Syria… and that pre-dates Trump, Russia and any sort of cozy nonsense.

          Outside of the beltway, I don’t think there’s even remote support for Syrian adventures on the embiggening left either.

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          • I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about: an interpretation of what McConnell said about Mattis’ resignation or an interpretation of what he’s signaling politically in his comments about that resignation.* My view is that he’s siding with Mattis regarding preserving our alliances with western democracies and rejecting getting cozy with dictators, and that he’s politically signaling that Trump and Trumpists are wrong to do the opposite. Pretty straightforward, seems to me.

            Initially I thought that you were suggesting that McConnell, insofar as his motives were as I described, was wrong on the politics. I don’t think so, but I already said that. :)

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          • Or maybe this is a better way to get to the issue between us: why do you think McConnell wrote a public statement agreeing with what Mattis wrote in his resignation letter, a letter highly critical of Trump?

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            • Oh, I think its just straight forward re-defining the narrative… Mattis didn’t resign all the times Trump fumbled Nato positioning; he did resign when Trump slipped the bonds of the Blob and simply told him to pull the troops from Syria. McConnell knows pulling out (or technically, staying out) of Syria is popular, but suggesting this is about Nato/Russia gives him the right vector to try to derail the pull-out.

              What concerns me is that Bush’s 2nd Inaugural is now becoming the Left’s “Adults in the Room” position.

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          • The political cost for “abandoning” Ghani, Erdogan, Barzani and these Syrian allies?

            Yeah, I think this latest “crisis” could very well work to Trump’s benefit. I don’t think Americans want extended kinetic engagement with terror groups and nation states in the Middle East, and I think they’re perfectly fine with a wall.

            I just don’t think it matters again. The negative approval for Trump is baked in the cake at this point. The sooner the GOP can move past Trump the better we’ll be.

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    • Cocaine Mitch is clearly the GOP MVP of this first quarter of the 20th century, but if he doesn’t realize that the foreign policy plebian politics are more with Trump than they are against him, he’s making a significant mistake. (the same one in which he lost the Senate the first time as Bill Frist’s Number 2)

      To put it bluntly, Americans need to be told who their enemies are. Often, the enemies help out, and publically announce they are the enemy. Some enemies are easier to latch onto because they look different and/or worship different than the modal white christian American.

      But Americans can go, for example, to treating Russians like a friend to treating Russia like an enemy within the space of a year or two. As well as the reverse

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      • but if he doesn’t realize that the foreign policy plebian politics are more with Trump than they are against him, he’s making a significant mistake.

        Here’s McConnell’s comment on Mattis’ resignation:

        I believe it’s essential that the United States maintain and strengthen the post-World War II alliances that have been carefully built by leaders in both parties. We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter.

        So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis, who shares those clear principles, will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership.

        I think most Americans agree with McConnell on these points, but specifically – as I mentioned – most traditional GOP voters do as well. Both you and Marchmaine seem to disagree with me on that point and believe that McConnell is on the wrong side of the retail MAGA-driven politics right now. We shall see. But McConnell’s *intention* in making that statement, in my view, is to shore up the GOP base so that it continues to include those traditional GOP voters, and he did so by publicly criticizing Trump. Which is (I think) pretty remarkable.

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        • I agree somewhat, but Mitch specifically has been the target of MAGA and its precursors for a while now. He’s been a able to slay them for the most part (but does have to share the state with Rand Paul, and his primary opponent is now governor).

          So I think the die is cast. McConnell is definitely trying to keep the traditional three legged stool together, but that one leg has some serious rot, and I don’t know if Mitch specifically can possibly be the Norm Abram on this project. Really, I don’t think anyone can. Not without a pause and reset similar to that occurred from the fall of Saigon to the liberation of Kuwait

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          • Heck, one leg? If the GOP only had that problem. The social leg is pretty complicated these days, the neocon leg is- as you noted- pretty rotted and Trump’s election basically finalized the circa 2000 GOP project of throwing the libertarian/market in a pond though the GOP establishment still throws out the tax cuts to keep their money folk content.

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    • Man, that’s one of those things that _both_ options are equally bad. Option one, there actually some sort of huge problem with liquidity, or, option two, the Treasury Secretary is a lunatic.

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        • Yeah. I’d previously classified Mnuchin as, basically, a rich Rick Perry: He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but knows enough to just stay out of the way.

          He’s also so wealthy and privileged that he treats his employer as his own personal piggy bank, so there was a bit of a learning curve there, but he’s also rich enough he doesn’t _need_ to do that, so basically stopped when people complained.

          So I basically concluded that he was basically the best we’re going to get from this administration. He wasn’t anticompetent.

          Now it turns out we…possibly are going to have a crisis, and he’s…really bad at this. Like, so bad he’s possibly going to cause said crisis.

          Incidentally, what the _hell_ is he talking about, anyway? Is this just some sort of general worry about the stock market? Or is there some actual problem?

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          • He’s also so wealthy and privileged that he treats his employer as his own personal piggy bank, so there was a bit of a learning curve there, but he’s also rich enough he doesn’t _need_ to do that, so basically stopped when people complained.

            Eh, I think he and his wife just went on another vacation funded by the US government. As in “right now he’s on it”.

            So…maybe not so much.

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        • Trump only attracts idiots, charlatans, grifters, and ideologues. The competent people in his admin are forced out eventually and there were never many of them. Even the people forced out damaged their departments like Tilerson. So they are not very bright guys and things are getting out of hand.

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