Donald Trump remains as absurd as ever even as his standard substantive accomplishments — and the sheer abundance of his absurdities — make him seem ever more normalized.
But he is not normalizing. He is making us weirder.
Trump reaps an immunizing effect from the abundance of outrages, which makes each of them less significant because of all the others.
Remember the Bob Woodward book that had Defense Secretary James Mattis aghast at Trump’s ignorance and recklessness on foreign and military policy, and arbitrarily deciding to ignore some of Trump’s orders? Remember the mystery op-ed essay ostensibly from a key Trump administration official who said he, or she, and others were working vigilantly to keep the man ignored or quietly countered or otherwise in check? Remember the exhaustive reporting from The New York Times about seeming fraud and certain lies in Trump’s tax-avoided inheritance? Remember Robert Mueller?
I don’t, either.
Last week Trump turned the Oval Office over to the rantings of Kanye West, who once interrupted Taylor Swift when she was receiving a music award to say Beyoncé should have won. The president took the side of the man, of the zany interrupter, of the bully, not the woman. Of course.
He did it because Kanye is black — and Trump’s ego harbors notions he can win black votes, which he can’t much — and because Swift was getting entirely too much attention in Trump’s newly ruling culture of celebrity blended with politics because of her announced support for Democrats to more than 100 million social-media followers.
Trump thinks as deeply as a television screen. Last week he was watching Fox — but I repeat myself — when an anchor-person asked an anti-Brett Kavanaugh protester about Trump’s allegations that anti-Kavanaugh protesters were professionals getting paid. The woman sarcastically said, yeah, they’re all calling to ask where their checks are. Trump saw that, didn’t understand the joke, and regaled a rally of similar primitives that evening with reports that not only were those foes of Kavanaugh professional protesters, but, it turns out, mad ones because they haven’t been paid yet.
Meantime, however: Trump said he would get NAFTA made better and he did. He said he would get tough with China on trade and he did. He said he would tighten the border to immigration and he’s done it. He said the economy would be great, and it’s good. He said he would put conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court and two middle-aged right-wing males now sit there to keep women down for a generation.
Trump’s approval rating is up to 41 percent, which is 15 to 20 points higher than Nancy Pelosi’s or Mitch McConnell’s.
So now he has decided to make the midterms about the only thing that matters to him — himself — and secondarily, the hapless Democratic resistance (again I repeat myself) to Kavanaugh. Trump calls that resistance an “angry mob” and “evil.”
It’s not that the steadily normalizing and immunizing of Trump make him widely triumphant in American politics. He isn’t. It’s that the steadily normalizing and immunizing of Trump make American politics more polarized and more dysfunctional — thus weirder — than ever.
They used to say it was impossible that, in a midterm election, the House and Senate would go significantly different ways in terms of party affiliation. They said the nation’s prevailing mood at the time wouldn’t permit it.
But there is no prevailing national mood. There is only place. There is the planet called West Virginia. There is the planet called California.
If the midterms were today, the Republicans might gain three to five Senate seats, going from 51 to 54 or 55 or 56, in North Dakota, Missouri, Florida, Indiana and Montana, while the Democrats gained 30 to take control of the House.
For the Senate this time, Democrats happen to be defending several seats heavy with rural voters in states Trump won. In the House, Democrats confront great opportunity for gains in suburban districts held by Republicans, won by Hillary Clinton and inhabited by upscale, well-educated moderate suburban women who’d vote Republican in normal times but can’t abide the personal behavior atrocity that is Trump.
Democrats keep thinking they can win with the sheer numbers from their tenuous merger of identity groups and the anti-Trump motivation of those groups — women, young people, blacks, Hispanics, gays. But consider that their ace card for the midterms is that women who might normally vote Republican are apt to cross over to try to put at least one congressional chamber in a position to check this wild man-child of a president.
There is an emerging new normal in American politics, and it isn’t. We’ll likely see it election night as Republicans gain in the Senate while Democrats gain in the House.
Trump will declare victory. Nancy Pelosi will declare victory. America will behold the split decision and not know whether to laugh or cry. So it’ll just go back to work.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.