The Trump administration is a circus, but the question is whether its antics are an intentional sideshow or a byproduct of dysfunctionalism? The answer lies perhaps somewhere in between. But like any good showman, Trump has learned how to manipulate his audience, and this includes both his supporters and distractors.
There is no question that the Trump administration has had the air or a circus, headed by a ringleader part Elmer Gantry, part P.T. Barnum. Legislatively the Trump administration’s record of accomplishment is weak by any comparison, forcing it into the use of executive orders nearly double the pace of that of the Obama administration which Trump decried as a failure of leadership and inability to work in a bipartisan fashion. Trump’s problem too is party politics, except it his own, not the Democrats, yielding intra-party gridlock. Trump has made some headway with executive orders, reversing some of Obama’s. Yet there is a limit to what he has and can do here, with the easiest pickings (Obama’s Clean Energy executive order) already undone and the others requiring legislation or facing litigation.
The point is that the list of accomplishments by the Trump administration is thin and will continue to dwindle unless there is a major course correction in how it works with Congress. Some will point to Trump’s blustering on the Mexican Wall (remember that?), the sort of cancelling of the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Obamacare subsidies for the poor, and North Korea as accomplishments, but those victories are dubious at best. If success is defined as ticking off the rest of the world, Muslims, women’s reproductive health, and transgender individuals, then it might be a banner day, but few beyond a core group of Trumpistas, few agree.
So the issue then there more than meets the eye? Do the Trump blusters, his daily tweets, the soap opera treatment of his cabinet members, war heros, members of Congress, and anyone else who crosses him, merely represent a diversion or sideshow from what is really going on? The answer is yes and no. Yes it is a diversion in that the media and the public are so obsessed with “Keeping Up with the Trumpdashians” that less focus is placed on the failures of the Trump administration to govern. Yes there is some intentionality here by Trump but it may be more a product of hiding failures, his ego and desire to maintain media attention, and simply not knowing what it means to govern than a master plan to engage in disinformation. Put simply, the Trump administration may be deluded by its own illusions, thinking that what it says or what it displays is reality.
The Trump circus is both a distraction from and a cause of the administration’s failures. After nearly ten months the defining characteristic of the Trump administration is its inability to learn from its mistakes, confusing tweets with governing, and a denial that the Constitution defines how the political process works. Trump’s presidency is a failure in all but one respect–knowing how to push the buttons of the American public. He has convinced his supporters he cares about them and that he is doing things, and he has figured out how to get the media and his distractors to react to every single utterance or act of his. He has trained both camps to react, controlling both of them with predictability, just like a ringmaster in a circus.