A Disturbance in the Force 

So, after 35 days, the longest government shutdown in history ended with a whimper, not a bang. But it was at least a long, whiny, rambling, repetitive whimper, featuring the president's greatest build-the-wall hits — including his weird kidnapping-and-bondage fetish fantasy, his bizarre "make a left turn or a right turn at the border" riff, and his fanciful statements that the wall is "already being built." And so we need to build it more!

And, oh, we — not Mexico — will pay for it, by god, or else the president will schedule a national emergency in three weeks. Pelosi is shaking in her boots. Or, more likely, high-fiving Schumer over the prospect of Trump wanting to reenact his recent ignominious defeat.

In the president's speech announcing the government's reopening, there was no mention of the pain and suffering government employees and contractors and air travelers and others endured by going without pay or government services for more than a month. That was apparently of no concern. The president ended his speech by threatening to use whatever methods were at his disposal to build the wall, if a deal wasn't made in three weeks. Because that worked so well last time.

click to enlarge The Five
  • The Five

The next morning, Trump began his day by tweeting that another caravan was on the way! This one had 8,000 people(!) he said, much bigger than the ones that disappeared last fall, the day after the election. The president followed that "news" by tweeting reactively in real time from commentary that was happening on a Fox morning show, presumably as he watched — including a bizarre tweet to institute state Bible studies, in response to a guest who proposed the idea. (I wish some reporter would ask Trump to name his favorite Bible verse.) Fox guests and hosts were literally creating national policy pronouncements in front of our eyes.

Honestly, if your aging father were behaving this irrationally and erratically, you'd probably gather the family to discuss assisted-living arrangements. Instead, the media dutifully report and discuss the president's impulsive outbursts as though they are policy statements worthy of Winston Churchill's finest hour. We have normalized this stuff to an astonishing degree. Historians of the future will be reading Trump quotes out loud to each other in disbelief.

Trump's approval rating is 35 percent as I write this. But in truth, it's almost always 35 to 40 percent. There is a core group of Americans that will support the president even if he does shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue — even if he shoots one of them, in which case, I have no doubt the wounded MAGA warrior would jump up, limp to the sidewalk, and shout, "Lock her up!"

But that abysmal presidential approval rating has created something of a disturbance in the force, a vacuum that is sucking lots of dust bunnies from under the bed. Democratic candidates are lining up in droves to get a shot at beating Mr. 35 Percent. As many as 24 Democrats have made noises about running in 2020, reviving memories of the 2016 GOP fustercluck of 17 candidates that gave us the current Idiot-in-Chief. At the first Democratic debate, will each candidate get a 14-second opening statement? Who knows?

Adding to the madness was the announcement this week by Starbucks CEO Howard "Venti" Schultz that he was considering running as an "independent centrist," which raised fears that he would be a hyper-caffeinated Jill Stein and split the anti-Trump vote, which would help the president get re-elected.

Trump, playing his usual three-dimensional chess, quickly insulted Schultz via tweet, and shortly afterward claimed he did so to provoke Schultz to run. Strategery!

All of this political maneuvering could, of course, be short-circuited in the coming weeks by the long-awaited Mueller report. If evidence continues to emerge that all (or most) of the president's men were engaging with Russian assets and agents to tip the 2016 elections, all bets — and well-laid campaign plans — are off. We can only hope.

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