The president has managed to accomplish at least one big thing in his first 100 days: the once unthinkable is now unremarkable.
- By Max BootMax Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His forthcoming book is “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.”
As he approaches his 100th day in office, Donald Trump does not have many achievements or much support. Fewer than 42 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, the lowest level of support of any president at this point in his administration — lower even than Gerald Ford’s numbers after pardoning Richard Nixon. But he is benefiting from two trends. First, his base still loves him; his approval rating among Republicans is, I’m sorry to say, 84 percent.
The second trend is harder to discern, and it can’t be reduced to numbers, but I am convinced it is real. I refer to the country’s growing acceptance of the unacceptable.
People adjust to any situation, no matter how bizarre or abnormal. An alien landing on Earth would be “yuge” news, to use Trump’s favorite word, but alien landings every day would quickly become ho-hum. So it is with the outlandish occupant of the Oval Office — he is increasingly being treated as a normal president even though he is anything but.
What was once unthinkable is now unremarkable. There is now a tendency, even among many of my Never Trump friends, to shrug their shoulders at his latest shenanigans. It is simply too difficult to stay outraged nonstop for 100 days, much less for 1,461 days — the length of one presidential term. Trump continues to say and do things that are, by any reasonable standard, egregious, but we notice his offenses less and less because they are such a frequent occurrence.
A few recent examples, big and small, illustrate the point.
—Trump all but endorsed Marine Le Pen for president of France, telling The Associated Press that a terrorist attack in Paris will “probably help her because she is the strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” He had not one word of censure for Le Pen in spite of her party’s long history of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Americanism, pro-Putinism, and Holocaust denial. Trump’s statement did not appreciably help Le Pen, who finished second behind the centrist Emmanuel Macron, and it may even have hurt her. But it is inconceivable that any previous president would have offered words of praise for such a fringe figure who is, according to one of her own former advisors, surrounded by “real Nazis.”
— Trump has been outspoken in praising cruel dictators. He rolled out the red carpet for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, praising this tyrant, who is overseeing mass torture and mass detentions, for having “done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” and saying he has the “strong backing” of the United States. Trump did manage to win the release of an American citizen who was held unjustly in Egyptian prison for three years, but he has nothing to say about the many other innocents locked up and abused by Sisi.
Even worse, Trump called Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory in a rigged referendum that was widely seen as the death knell for Turkish democracy. The U.S. State Department noted that the vote was marred by “irregularities” and an “uneven playing field,” but Trump was silent regarding these abuses. You would have to go back to the Nixon administration to find any precedent for an American president offering such unambiguous support for human rights violations and the destruction of democracy.
— While expressing support for foreign demagogues, Trump consistently criticizes America’s staunchest allies. Just last week, he said Canada’s measures to support its dairy industry were a “disgrace,” as if the United States didn’t engage in its own market-distorting agricultural subsidies, and added, “We’re not going to let Canada take advantage [of the United States].” Now he’s imposing 20 percent tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber imports. This comes after he had picked fights with other allied leaders, from Mexico to Australia.
— Trump hosted a motley crew — including Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent — for dinner on April 19 at the White House, during which they posed for a disrespectful selfie in front of Hillary Clinton’s official portrait as first lady. The real problem, however, was inviting Ted Nugent at all. This is the same Ted Nugent, after all, who referred to former President Barack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel” and a “piece of shit”; who called former Secretary of State Clinton a “toxic cunt” and a “worthless bitch”; who said Obama and Clinton should be “tried for treason & hung”; who said, “I’d like to shoot them dead,” in reference to undocumented immigrants; and who claimed there is a Jewish conspiracy to push gun control. Any one of these comments would have disqualified Nugent from stepping foot into any other White House. Trump, however, spent four hours squiring Nugent and his other guests around the executive mansion.
— Trump continues to be a conflict-of-interest disaster area. Not only has Trump himself recently won coveted trademarks from China, but so has his daughter Ivanka, who is a senior aide to her father in arguable violation of an anti-nepotism law. Both the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump Marks LLC continue to expand their activities around the world, doing business with companies closely tied to foreign regimes. As the AP notes, “The commercial currents of President Donald Trump’s White House are unprecedented in modern American politics, ethics lawyers say.”
— Trump casually bragged in his AP interview that his TV ratings on CBS’s Face the Nation — or, as he prefers to call it, “Deface the Nation” — are the highest “since the World Trade Center came down.” Coming from any other president, this insensitive comment would have caused days of news coverage; coming from Trump, it’s barely noticed.
The problem with the Trump administration, just as with the Trump campaign, is that the outrages come so fast and furious that there is hardly any time to digest any of them before we are on to the next one. As a result, the public becomes numb to what is happening.
This apathy is especially damaging when it comes to Kremlingate — the ties between Trump and Vladimir Putin, who, evidence suggests, intervened in the U.S. election to help elect him. Troubling new connections continue to come to light. Just recently, for example, we learned that the Trump inaugural committee accepted $1 million from Alexander Shustorovich, who is, as the Wall Street Journal notes, “a Russian-American businessman whose business dealings and relationships with top Russian officials and state-owned companies—dealings that prompted the U.S. to refuse to allow him to be part of a uranium deal two decades ago, on national-security grounds—led the Republican National Committee to return a $250,000 check from him in 2000.”
Yet the Shutorovich donation was not noted until the sixth paragraph of the Journal story and was generally ignored by the rest of the news media. Just as little attention has been paid to other Trump-Kremlin connections — such as the secret meetings that Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, had in January with Russian representatives in the Seychelles. The Trump campaign claims that Prince was not part of the transition; the Boston Globe has assembled compelling evidence that the White House is lying.
Countless other Trump-Kremlin links cry out for investigation, and there is scant reason to think that the Republican-controlled intelligence committees in the House and Senate will be up to the job. There is an obvious need to appoint a special counsel and/or a bipartisan, 9/11-style committee, but that will never happen absent a lot more public pressure than has been evident to date.
Trump doesn’t have much support, it is true, but the failure among his many critics to mobilize and maintain a higher level of indignation is letting him get away with his offenses against good taste, sound policy, ethical norms, and possibly even the law itself.
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