From the moment Trump went down that golden escalator back in June of 2015 to announce his candidacy, people have been predicting that his improbable foray into politics was on the verge of imploding. There were a dozen disqualifying moments during the campaign and since he's been president we've careened from one disaster to another, each time wondering if he's going to survive. The smart money says that he does because he always has.
Having said that, a shift does seem to be taking place in Washington. It may just be the realization setting in that the man people saw on the campaign trail was the real authentic Donald Trump and he's not going to change, but there are just too many reports coming from inside the administration and Capitol Hill expressing concern at his behavior to write this off as just another example of a Trump storm that will soon pass. There are alarms going off all over Washington and it just feels different this time.
First there are the reports of Trump having to be handled like a small child because of his moodiness and irrational demands. This part does not surprise me. He showed his puerile temperament on the campaign trail from the beginning. The infantile nicknames, his rage tweets, his narcissism all pointed to someone who was emotionally immature and intellectually in over his head. Here's just one example from very early in the primary season:
This childish combativeness didn't change when he became president and it led to his greatest self-inflicted wound, the firing of FBI director Comey and the naming of a Special Prosecutor for the Russia investigation.
There is also a growing acknowledgement that he doesn't understand the job and isn't able to learn it. This too was obvious before the election. He was upfront about how he does business, admitting that he never bothered with market research or consultants of any kind. According to the Washington Post back in July of 2016 Trump said he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.” He told them that he didn't trust experts because “they can’t see the forest for the trees” and "when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do."
No one should have ever expected that he would be willing or able to learn anything new as president and he isn't. He believes he is omniscient.
Still, we are seeing a lot of reports that he's getting worse. Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair wrote a piece yesterday in which numerous sources told him that the White House is in crisis and that Bob Corker's comments have "brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.” He is described as "increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods" particularly since his candidate for Alabama Senate, Luther Strange, lost the election and he felt that "his cult of personality was broken."
Sherman's sources believe that Trump is losing it, there's just no other way to put it. And there's reason to think they're right. Even by Trump's standards, he often seems a little bit confused. For instance on Wednesday's press availability with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he was asked how his lunch on Tuesday with Secretary of State Tillerson went. He replied:
Very good. You mean last week? John, you're so far behind the times. Do you mean today or last week? Because today I didn't have lunch with him.
No, I had a lunch last week, and we had a very good lunch. We have a very good relationship. The press really doesn't understand that, but that's okay. We actually have a very good relationship.
It had been widely reported that he had lunch the day before with Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis. It was on the official schedule and MSNBC 's Peter Alexander checked with the White House and they told him that the lunch did take place. Sherman reports that the White House doesn't want him doing any adversarial interviews because "he's lost a step" which indicates that perhaps there's something else going on.
On the other hand, Trump has never known what he was talking about and often just lies reflexively for reasons of his own. In fact, yesterday's NBC report that Trump wanted to increase the nuclear arsenal ten-fold is a case in point. Back in July he had looked at a chart of the U.S. and Russia’s nuclear capabilities over time that showed America’s stockpile at its peak in the late 1960s. He saw the highest number on the chart, about 32,000 and said he wanted that many again. Clueless as he is, he didn't understand that decades of painstaking non-proliferation work is what brought the US nuclear arsenal down to about 4,000 which is more than enough to obliterate most of earth's population. The people present didn't take it as an order, mostly because his response to every item of military capability they brought up was "more, I want more" without any understanding or interest in the specifics.
On Wednesday, Trump denied ever saying he wanted to expand the nuclear arsenal. And yet even before that meeting there was this:
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
His response to NBC's report, as we've all heard by now, amounted to a frontal assault on the First Amendment. He threatened to withdraw the licenses of NBC TV stations in retaliation for what he (of course) described as "fake news."
It's now widely assumed that Trump is going to declare that Iran is in breach of the nuclear agreement this week and send the issue to Congress to sort out, which pretty much forecloses any more negotiations with North Korea. Abrogation of this nuclear treaty means that it's unlikely any nonproliferation agreement signed by the United States will be considered worth the paper it's printed on from here on out.
There's a cry for help coming from inside the house -- the White House. Everyone can hear it, but nobody can figure out how to disarm the crazy man who's holding the country hostage. He has no intention of surrendering.