Is Donald Trump riding a rubber ducky into alligator-infested waters, as a former aide to House Speaker John Boehner suggests to Politico? It’s hard to avoid the impression that an increasingly unmoored Trump seems to groping for assistance wherever he can find it. This morning, for example, Trump, in between playing weatherman about Hurricane Dorian, retweeted the real estate tycoon Sam Zell, one of whose great accomplishments was to bankrupt the Tribune Company. Zell declared that the notion that America shouldn’t impose tariffs on countries like China is a canard: ‘….We can’t have a system where we run our entire economy for the benefit of other countries, which have long charged us big tariffs. Don’t keep ducking the reality. The US has been subject to Tariff Terrorism for 50 years. But a real deal can be done.’
So far, Trump hasn’t been able to produce the kind of accomplishments that a normal president would be seeking. The much-ballyhooed US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement has gone nowhere. Ditto for an agreement with China, which Trump apparently assumed would crack under the pressure of American tariffs. It isn’t. Then there is US manufacturing. The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index recorded a drop in factory activity from July to August, prompting the stock market to plunge yesterday. A recession looms. All of this prompts Greg Sargent to muse in the Washington Post that Trump may be much weaker than is commonly assumed. According to Sargent, ‘the unexciting explanation for much of what we’re seeing — that Trump and his advisers fear he’s failing and might lose reelection as a result — sometimes gets short shrift in cable discussions, which too often still proceed as if Trump has some sort of clever political trick up his sleeve.’
And yet it may not be fair simply to accuse Trump of attempting to commit political prestidigitation. The political analyst Thomas Edsall notes in the New York Times that Trump has a good thing going on with his embrace of chaos. He wasn’t elected to restore Washington to its former luster but to ravage it. Political nihilism, Edsall says, is one of Trump’s most potent weapons. Edsall riffs on a paper that was presented a week ago at the American Political Science Association called ‘A “Need for Chaos” and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.’ The idea is that a new segment of the American electorate has been galvanized by social media to champion ‘chaos incitement’ that can manifest itself either on the left or the right. If this theory is right, then the more chaos Trump produces, the more popular he becomes with this portion of the electorate. The authors of the report, Edsall notes, contend that the ‘extreme discontent expressed in the “Need for Chaos” scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support.’
Whether Trump retweets the revelatory Edsall column which appeared in what he consistently and falsely deems a failing newspaper may be an open question. But these findings certainly bolster the notion that Trump might be able to succeed once more by failing upwards. If there’s no recession and the Democrats nominate a loopy candidate, then Trump might be able to perform well during his reelection battle. All he needs to do is keep engaging in political quackery.