Is Donald Trump intemperate? You betcha. The latest episode in the Trump Reality Show was his twenty-minute fugue, via telephone, on Fox & Friends Thursday morning. It was a breathless, manic performance in which the President inveighed against “leakin’, lyin’ James Comey,” the Justice Department, and the murderous regime of Iran. He dilated on the prospects for peace and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He talked about the travails of his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, whose home, hotel room, and business have been raided by the FBI. He also, in response to one question, graded his job performance at the 1 year, 3 month mark: A+.
The word that many commentators employed to describe the President’s comments was “unhinged.” For CNN, in a column that itself deserves the designation, it was “beyond unhinged”: “a disjointed rant that revealed his mind to be a frightening and chaotic place.”
A good illustration of what happened is furnished by a recurring skit in the classic cartoon strip Peanuts. You remember: the bossy and conniving Lucy balances a football for the hapless Charlie Brown to kick. Somehow, even though he has gone through this a thousand times before, Lucy convinces him to try kicking the ball. Sure enough: at the last moment, just as he runs up to kick it, Lucy pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown once again falls flat on his face.
That has just happened again to the CNN contingent of anti-Trump Charlie Browns. Donald Trump behaves in a way they find totally outrageous. Can you believe it? He called James Comey, righteous James Comey, an “untruthful slime ball” who has been “leaking for years.” Holy smokes, Batman! That’s the President of the United States. Pull the political fire alarm bells. Alert the echo chamber. The President is unhinged! He’s taken leave of his senses! Just wait till we get this out!
Here’s the thing, though: that news has been out since the election primaries in 2015-2016. Donald Trump thrives on the outrageous. When Megyn Kelly, during the nationally televised Presidential debates, said that Trump had been known to call women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals,” he shot back “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” The commentariat was aghast. The people (excepting, perhaps, Rosie O’Donnell) loved it. From the floor of the General Assembly at the United Nations, the President actually called Kim Jong-Un “Rocket man”: Oh my God, stop the presses!
Megyn Kelly likely thought she was administering the coup de grâce for the (everybody agreed) impossible candidate Trump. But in fact she perceptibly improved his standing and dug another foot or two deeper into her own journalistic grave. Everybody who was anybody said that Trump was a dangerous madman who might start a nuclear war in Korea. Yesterday, Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met and declared a “new history” of peace. Is it for real? Time will tell. Were I a betting man, I’d lay a healthy wager that it is for real.
Trump is like those martial arts experts who manage to use their opponents’ own strength against them. He says or tweets something they find outrageous—often, to be sure, because it is outrageous—and the anti-Trump press (and sometimes not just the anti-Trump press) goes nuts in claiming the President is nuts. Meanwhile, Trump proceeds along with his agenda. The embassy, my friends, is moving to Jerusalem. North and South Korea are talking about denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. China blusters over Trump’s tariff talk, but quietly begins to make accommodations.
And on and on. Donald Trump says and does things no previous President would have dared. His enemies, like Pavlov’s dog hearing the bell, start salivating and licking their flews. I think the old Arab mot sums it up: those dogs are barking but the caravan moves on.