Once upon a time there was an uninformed man with an ego disorder who came to look upon a young zealot from Arkansas as the brain he never had.
Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury alleges that some White House aides believe President Donald Trump shows signs of dementia.
No one wants to be publicly called demented, least of all Trump. His ego disorder causes him to obsess above all else on how he's portrayed in the media.
Defying his usual trainers, Trump insisted that his meeting last Tuesday on immigration with leading members of Congress get conducted openly before live television cameras. He would show everyone that he could hold a thought and not repeat himself.
He got through the meeting with basic competence. But his performance--his word, not mine--revealed his at-best superficial policy familiarity. It became clear that Trump didn't possess much depth on what he was talking about.
Dementia is illness. Lazy ignorance is bad character. Trump is not demented.
Before the cameras, Trump declared that he wanted a policy of "love" toward the Dreamers, those innocently brought into the country without documentation as children.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had recently started talking favorably about the pliable president for manipulative tactical purposes, encouraged Trump to champion comprehensive immigration reform and show leadership by taking the heat.
Trump said, oh, yeah, give me all the heat you've got.
He knew a good line for the cameras when he mouthed one.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Trump if he would accept a "clean bill" on the Dreamers. He said that'd be fine.
That meant he'd go along with a bill simply granting legal status to the Dreamers without attaching any restrictions on broader immigration of the kind he'd championed in his campaign and that congressional Republicans were insisting on.
Trump summarily abandoned his base and his party in Congress.
The House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, spoke up to say, uh, well, Mr. President, we of course need to insist on tougher border security and other policy reforms as we consider the Dreamers.
"I think that's what she's saying." Trump replied, nodding to Feinstein. But it was the precise opposite of what she was saying.
After the meeting, Trump's brain was turned over privately to Our Boy Tom Cotton and other right-wing zealots, namely White House aide Stephen Miller, who is Cotton without the humility and charm.
They explained to the president that he didn't want any "clean" bill. They instructed him that attaching tough immigration policies to the broad support for the Dreamers offered the best and probably only leverage for getting those tough policies imposed and thus pleasing the president's base.
Basically, Cotton and a few other hard-right zealots were telling Trump that they'd taken the Dreamers hostage and that he was on the verge of letting the hostages go without collecting any ransom.
Two days later, Graham and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, acting in the generous and bipartisan spirit of the meeting in which Trump preened for the TV cameras about "love," came to the president with a proposal. It was to legalize the Dreamers and let Trump have the ransom of hundreds of millions of American taxpayers' dollars for part of a border wall he'd always said Mexico would pay for.
Graham and Durbin walked into an ambush.
Cotton and Miller had gotten to Trump first to explain that Graham and Durbin were bringing him something he shouldn't favor. They told the president that Graham and Durbin were trying to trick him into giving up curbs on family migration and restrictions on a diversity lottery for immigrants.
They surely warned Trump that he would look weak, the thing he hates most, if he took the deal.
So, ego-bruised and thus dangerous, the man of Tuesday's "love" told Durbin and Graham that the country doesn't need any immigrants from "bleephole" countries.
Uh-oh. The uninformed one with an ego disorder had accidentally taken some of the varnish off Cotton's competent zealotry and right-wing extremism.
The liberal base became so outraged that it decreed that congressional Democrats should shut down the government unless they secured the Dreamers' protection first.
Congressional Democrats obliged, choosing to define themselves on immigration rather than, say, cost-saving fixes in too-expensive Obama-care. They went with identity politics--reaching out to a collection of groups, not generally to everyone. They sold out Democrats in red states like Arkansas who need a connection with white rural working people.
Moderate senators of both parties worked out on Monday a short-term end to the shutdown. But a real solution in three weeks still seemed to hinge on whether Trump could be shielded from reprogramming by Cotton and Miller.
Who was to blame for the shutdown nonsense?
There is the Arkansas electorate, which put Cotton in the Senate. But Arkansas voters thought they were electing a senator, not a presidential brain. So, mainly it's Trump.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 01/23/2018
Print Headline: If he only had a brain