President Trump’s Worst Enemy Is… Himself
A Morning Jolt reader writes in, contending I’ve been too hard on President Trump lately. Your mileage may vary, but this week — and the days, weeks, or possibly months ahead that will be consumed with debate about the president’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey and the search for a replacement — appears to be a giant self-inflicted wound with little to no upside.
I get it, if you voted for Trump, there’s an enormous sunken-costs theory; you want him to make the right call on any given day. When I think Trump is doing something important and not getting enough credit, I say so. When I think his appointees are getting inaccurately and unfairly criticized, I say so. I’ve assembled long lists of the good news and bad news.
But in the 24 hours after Comey’s firing, various administration spokesmen and surrogates put forth five arguments for the decision:
The decision was primarily driven by the recommendation Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The president only reached the decision to fire Comey after Rosenstein’s review.
The decision was a response to the way Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “countless” FBI personnel were complaining about Comey’s leadership.
In a bit of almost comical hyperbole, Sanders said Comey had committed “basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice.” Atrocities?
And then Thursday, Trump went out and declared to Lester Holt, “Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. When I decided to do it, this Russia thing, with Trump and Russia is an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.” (This makes little sense, because Trump specifically asked Comey to stay on as director in January.) In other words, Trump went out and basically demonstrated that his own staff had no idea how or why he actually made the decision. He undermined his own team.
Rosenstein is reportedly insisting that he was not the driving force behind Comey’s dismissal and points out that he never expressly recommended that Comey be fired.
For what it’s worth, Andrew McCabe, the acting director of the FBI and Comey’s former deputy, insisted in testimony Thursday that “the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” Recently retired FBI officials, who can speak freely, concur. If you know someone in the FBI, see if they changed their Facebook profile picture to one of Comey.
Look, while FBI personnel surely hold all kinds of personal political views, they are, by and large, law-and-order types for obvious reasons. Being “tough on crime” is their job. They’re probably skeptical of claims that their organization unfairly profiles Americans, and generally don’t think they abuse their surveillance powers. They undoubtedly have a clear-eyed first-hand view about the potential threats of terrorism, gangs, human trafficking and people smugglers, the drug trade and cartels, organized crime, and other menaces in American life. In other words, the bureau is full of people who are, at the very least, probably inclined to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt in his general outlook towards the world, if not outright support him.
And Trump managed to alienate plenty of them this week by firing a respected director without any warning.
And Now, a Bit of Washington-Bashing
One of the topics we debate in the pop culture podcast this week is whether Washington D.C. is merely now the nation’s most cursed sports town, or just the overall worst.
When evaluating a city’s sports passion and fortunes, we should probably grade on a curve. Good-weather cities like Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles have a tough time keeping fan passions stirred when the beach or other outdoor fun is a constant competition for the leisure time of the locals. Atlanta Falcons fans just suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses in NFL history, but they still got to see their team get to a Super Bowl. (Besides, college sports are an undercounted factor; the Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets usually give Atlantans something to cheer about.)
The New York Times looks at the Capitals hockey team and the Nationals baseball team and draws the conclusion that the nation’s capital is now the “Saddest Sports Town.” (They reserve judgment on the Wizards, and don’t bother to mention the perpetually controversy-mired, underachieving Redskins.)
This feeling of doom, that the home team will always do something to mess up a good season, is not unique to Washington, of course. Boston overcame it. Chicago did, too. But it seems to be spreading in this city, with baseball’s Washington Nationals seemingly borrowing from the Capitals’ story line, turning excellent regular seasons into playoff fiascoes.
It’s hard to overstate just how obsessive and manic-depressive the local news — television, radio, and print — is when covering the local sports teams. (“We’re just getting breaking news about a chemical weapons attack in downtown Washington, we’ll have more on that in a second, but first, let’s take you out to Redskins Park for an update on how Kirk Cousins’s ankle feels…”) Obsessive coverage of overrated sports teams is hardly unique to Washington, but maybe it’s a little more irritating than usual considering the city and region’s other flaws.
Those of you who live in Washington and love it may want to skip ahead. For those of you who don’t live in or near the nation’s capital and want to feel good about it, a short list about aspects of local life that are getting on my nerves…
Traffic is horrendous and getting worse. Twice in the past three weeks I’ve had to make trip that would ordinarily take, say, twenty to thirty minutes with no traffic. In both cases, I left ninety minutes early and still arrived late for my appointment. It seems like one accident is all it takes to snarl everything on every major artery in and out of the city. Looking at what other people have written about the D.C. area lately, I laughed at this assessment: “Seven Corners may well be the worst intersection in the history of roads. What good is it to eat amazing ethnic Asian food only to leave the parking lot and get rammed by three cars at the same time from all sides?”
I’ve lived in the Washington area since 1993, other than those years in Turkey. The subway/light-rail Metro system used to be the one smooth-running feature of an otherwise dysfunctional city. Well, now the mayor no longer uses crack (as far as we know), real estate is way more expensive, and the restaurants are better, but the Metro is perpetually delayed and unreliable.
When it’s not raining, spring is nice. (At the moment, we appear to be trapped in a recurring pattern of several nice weekdays followed by miserably wet weekends.) We’ve just gotten past Pollen Season, where everything ends up covered in light-green power and people who never had allergies before suddenly find their sinuses blowing up like an IED. Autumns are beautiful. But summer is mostly weeks upon weeks of feeling like a warm wet mop hit you in the face the moment you stepped out the door. In winter, the slightest snowfall shuts down the schools and brings the place to its knees.
Every kid-friendly venue is mobbed on a weekend. If the weather’s bad, there’s the Smithsonian, Tyson’s Corner, or the movie theaters; if the weather’s nice, there’s the Mall, Old Town Alexandria, Great Falls, the National Zoo. Everyone likes them, so every family in the metropolitan area seems to go there at the same time.
The cost of living isn’t New York… but it isn’t that far from New York. And with New York, you at least get all of the benefits of New York, like every cultural option imaginable accessible by a functioning subway system.
Speaking of costs, Old Town Alexandria has plenty to do, but the parking enforcement will jump on you the millisecond your two hours are up. Fairfax City has tons of free parking… and much, much less to do. In the District, you might as well forget finding street parking and shell out for the parking garage. (Another good assessment: “You will not find street parking near [your destination]. You think you will. You did that one time. You won’t. Just park in the garage. You don’t want to be late for your movie.”)
Yes, the speed cameras in the District will nail you for going 36 in a 25 zone.
Every time I travel to someplace else in the country, I think, Wow, everyone is so nice and polite here! This seems particularly noticeable in the Midwest and South. Then I suddenly realized, it isn’t that everyone else is exceptionally nice; it’s that my baseline expectation of human interaction is set by the colder, ruder, nastier people in the Washington area.
Having griped about all this, I have to dispel a few misconceptions. The populace isn’t all lawyers and bureaucrats. Most of my neighbors, parents at my children’s school, fellow soccer parents, etc. are genuinely nice people. You can see community bonds in place at the local middle-school musicals, on the Little League fields, waving as they walk their dogs down your street. Maybe we suburban parents come across as boring to some particularly Bohemian or free-spirited souls, but by the time kids come along, you’re less interested in leading the revolution, saving the world, and immanentizing the eschaton.
ADDENDA: This week’s pop culture podcast as a whole features a follow-up on The Rock’s presidential ambitions, why the world of Pixar’s Cars is getting a little more disturbing and confusing; why the Aliens sequels seem to get less interesting each time; what happens when the P.C. Police turn on Amy Schumer; which shows get canceled and why NCIS will go on forever, and our listeners share their worst jobs.