The American presidency is being dumbed-down before our very eyes. It’s as if we’re all trapped within one of those “child in an adult body” movies (think: Big or Freaky Friday), awaiting the next wacky turn of events to play out across our screens. What will “Kid President” do next? Throw a tantrum on Twitter? Fire somebody else at the White House? Yell at his subordinates again? Try to fire Congress? Cause an international incident by doing something extremely rude while meeting the Pope? Stay tuned, the next unbelievable plot twist is right around the corner!
If that sounds a bit loopy, well, it’s been a loopy sort of week. Last Monday, Sally Yates testified before a Senate committee about the firing of Michael Flynn. Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey because he was being too enthusiastic about investigating Trump’s Russia ties, after which Trump sent all his White House underlings (including Vice President Mike Pence) to go out and peddle a complete lie about why Comey was fired. Wednesday, Trump was meeting in the Oval Office so he could give away secret intelligence to the Russians ― while barring American press from the event, but allowing Russian photographers to document the loving smiles all around. Thursday, Trump was on NBC, flat-out admitting that the Russia investigation was why Comey was fired. Friday, Trump was threatening Comey with “tapes” of their conversations, in what could be termed “attempted witness tampering.” This week, we’ve already had a bombshell per day, with the revelations that (1) Trump gave away secrets Israel shared with us to the Russians, and (2) Comey took meticulous notes of all conversations with Trump, including one where Trump told him to “let Flynn go” and to let the whole Russia investigation go, for good measure. Who wouldn’t be a little loopy after all of that?
The scandalous revelations have come so fast and thick, there have been some that in normal times would be enormous scandals on their own, which have instead been lost among all the other bombshells. Oddly enough, the media mostly ignored one of the revelations from the Comey memo ― that Trump also suggested Comey put some journalists in jail for printing stories based on leaks. If this hadn’t been such a whirlwind of a week, that right there would have generated outraged front-page headlines for days, if not weeks. But it has so far merited little attention because there is so much else hitting the wall simultaneously.
Another of these caught my eye, in the midst of the rest of the epic Dumpster fire that is the Trump White House ― two stories about the dumbing-down of the presidency. The first was an article in the periodical Foreign Policy on how the other members of NATO are preparing for Trump’s first summit meeting with them. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to two to four minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO’s latest strategic stance. On May 25, NATO will host the heads of state of all 28 member countries in what will be Trump’s first face-to-face summit with an alliance he bashed repeatedly while running for president. NATO traditionally organizes a meeting within the first few months of a new U.S. president’s term, but Trump has the alliance more on edge than any previous newcomer, forcing organizers to look for ways to make the staid affair more engaging. “It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” said one source briefed extensively on the meeting’s preparations. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child ― someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re freaking out.” . . . “People are scared of his unpredictability, intimidated by how he might react knowing the president might speak his mind ― or tweet his mind,” the former official said. Or, as another current senior NATO official put it before the meeting: “We’re bracing for impact.”
The second news item was how Trump is being prepped for his first foreign trip by his own advisors, which contained this description of how vital information is being presented to our commander-in-chief:
Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span. He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos. National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with N.S.C. officials. Trump likes to look at a map of the country involved when he learns about a topic. “He likes to visualize things,” said a senior administration official.
That paints a pretty stunning picture, which is the whole reason why “Kid President” popped into my mind in the first place. Donny won’t read, so we have to make things entertaining for him with lots of shiny maps and graphics ― just like a book for a pre-schooler. We can’t bore little Donny, because who knows what he’ll do then! The best way to keep him interested is to insert his own name into the briefings, because he loves seeing his name in print. And if you talk directly to him, you have to keep it to under four minutes or else he’ll nod off or get fidgety.
This is why “dumbed-down” is not partisan rhetoric or hyperbole of any sort. Being president is a complex and intense job. The subjects that must be dealt with are incredibly nuanced and touchy ― especially when it comes to foreign policy. And yet we have Kid President who gets squirmy if he has to sit through too long a briefing. We’ve already seen the real-world result of this, when Trump ― while bragging about the briefings he gets, mind you ― ham-handedly exposed a foreign ally to danger by sharing their intelligence with the Russians.
Donald Trump will soon be away ― for over a week ― on his first foreign trip. The potential for diplomatic disaster is enormous. He’ll be visiting a meeting of the heads of a wide group of Muslim states in Saudi Arabia. Then he’ll be meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. What could possibly go wrong with either of those? After a meeting with the Pope, he’ll then meet with NATO and the heads of Europe. Each and every one of these events is fraught with the possibility of Trump going off-script and sticking his foot in his mouth in one way or another. And throughout the whole trip, he’ll be dogged by the increasing scrutiny he’s now getting on Capitol Hill ― which will breed all kinds of resentment (perhaps while Trump is bored on an Air Force One flight).
So far, the one consistent aspect of Kid President’s time in office is that he always manages to top himself. You get through yet another exhausting week of scandalous Trump news, and think: “Well, he certainly can’t top that” ― and then he does, usually by early Monday morning. The past week has already raised this bar repeatedly. So what can we really expect from “Kid President Abroad”? Normally if a U.S. president uses the wrong fork at dinner or mispronounces a foreign leader’s name, it’s a huge scandal. At this point, though, absolutely anything could happen. Brace yourselves, world, here comes Kid President!
Chris Weigant blogs at: http://www.chrisweigant.com/
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant