Another week, another batch of op-eds analyzing what Trump said or tweeted now. At The Atlantic, Peter Wehner rang his eleventy-first change on the column he's been writing for four years, intoning that "the President is unraveling." At The Bulwark, Tim Miller took his courage in both trembling hands to stand up and testify that "Actually, the Orange Man is Bad." And so on, and on, ad nauseam.
A favorite obsessive focus of such pieces in recent weeks has been Trump's now flogged-to-death musings about the efficacy of UV light and disinfectant. After hearing about their effect on the virus, Trump wondered aloud to the DHS's Bill Bryan whether their potency might somehow be transferred "inside the body." A silly, clumsily phrased question, no doubt. The sort of question a normal president would know not to ask his advisor on live television. For those who haven't noticed, Trump isn't a normal president.
Meanwhile, for reasons unknown, there seems to have been no comparable elitist ridicule of Cristina Cuomo's coronavirus health blog, which offers free "alternative" tips on fighting COVID-19. These tips include, inter alia, adding household bleach to a warm bath and using a "body charger" to "send electrical frequencies" through the body and "rebalance" its "energy."
But yes, fine, I'm happy to say that both Cristina Cuomo and the president have said silly things. I have never been one to leap forward and loudly insist that every apparently silly utterance of Donald Trump is a 4-D chess move in disguise.
My annoyance with the Never-Trump brand springs from no personal loyalty to the Trump brand. I would simply like to propose that perhaps this whole enterprise of devoting time and white space to things the president says or tweets is a less than maximally useful exercise.
I'd like to make the radical suggestion that maybe, just maybe, two things can be true at the same time: the president is frequently petty, incoherent and buffoonish, and also there's a significant sense in which his pettiness, incoherence, and buffoonery at the executive level actually don't matter that much.
The truth is that both Trump's ardent fans and critics ascribe far more power to him than he either has or deserves. Trump may have a thousand impulses a day, many of them silly, maybe some even good, virtually none within his direct purview to enact.
The power in the US is not centralized. It is fractured and spread out among too many governors, mayors, and petty bureaucrats to count. That's what makes us a republic and not a dictatorship. When a dictator speaks, people have no choice but to listen. When Trump speaks, we get to ignore him. Isn't America great?
Yet for the anti-Trump brigade, the fact that Trump lives rent-free inside their heads seems to translate into an assumption that he lives rent-free in everyone else's head too. Thomas Chatterton Williams proposes that not just everyone in America, but everyone in Europe, nay, everyone who is online, "is forced to constantly consider Trump."
In his The Bulwark piece, Miller writes that Trump's "compulsions" are "broadcast for the entire country to see, for hours on end, every day, late into the night."
Of course, who am I to judge? Maybe Tim Miller is spending hours on end, every day, late into the night, watching Trump on television. There's no accounting for taste in time management.
But no, Miller really wants to make sure you understand just what kind of knuckle-dragger would dare to disagree with his time management priorities.
"The view of these sophisticates is that yes this man is bad, but also maybe having him in charge can be... not bad. Maybe even good. For as bad as president Orange Man is, there are more pressing matters that serious people must consider," Miller writes.
"For instance: What if a daytime CNN anchor uses hyperbole? Or a Washington Post columnist publishes a tweet that contradicts a tweet she tweeted three years ago? What if, somewhere in the universe, there is a liberal who needs to be owned?"
Well Tim, since you asked, now that you mention it, maybe there are more pressing matters that serious people must consider.
For instance: What if a state governor uses her power to ruin scores of small business-owners overnight?
Or a mayor publishes a tweet threatening to round up the usual suspects?
What if someone has a family?
Or just a life of some kind?
What if, somewhere in the universe, there are serious people who don't read The Bulwark?
Miller quoted a tweet from Ben Shapiro that asked what Joe Biden's case for being president could be other than Orange Man Bad. Miller sniffs that "…While I could come up with a substantive argument for Biden on the merits" (Tim! Do tell!) "it led me to wonder: Doesn't the question actually answer itself?"
I mean, yes, but no, not like Miller would like me to answer it, by literally saying in so many words that Donald Trump's badness is "all that really matters in our politics right now." Really, Tim, all? I don't know man, I just get nervous when people say "all." Personal preference.
But Miller, Wehner and their ilk will not be silenced, because they believe themselves to be the last voices in touch with reality as it is, patriotically twittering in the coal mine while the rest of us stumble on in blind devotion to Trump. In reality, they're the ones living in a bubble. Perhaps in their world, a Trump tweet is an event. In my world, most of the rest of us are getting on with our lives.
Would it be nice if we had a president who could wear the office with class and dignity? Yes. Nobody is saying that would not be nice. But for millions and millions of ordinary Americans, life goes on, and life is short. Far too short to spend it talking or writing about every single step or misstep Donald Trump takes. My vain hope is that those who talk and/or write for a living would collectively realize this and collectively move on into the broad, sunlit uplands of actually contentful journalism.
But who am I kidding? The shit show must go on.