As Donald Trump’s stop-and-go, do-and-don’t, yes-and-no presidency lurches toward its second birthday, we have found one expert phrase — not from political science but real science — that describes with startling familiarity what we have been witnessing.
It’s Trump’s “Terrible Twos.”
It’s a phrase parents all know too well. It comprises episodes that include the good, not-so-good and downright cringe-worthy. And of course all those transparent juvenile falsehoods. In this sense, the Internet has provided us with all the wise punditry we need — from the Mayo Clinic to Parents Magazine.
“Welcome to the terrible twos: a time when outbursts of ‘no!’ dominate your child’s vocabulary,” says one Parents Magazine website article. “The most dreaded of the signs of the terrible twos is public tantrums…. Temper tantrums often take place when your child is hungry, tired, bored, or feeling overwhelmed.”
We recall Trump’s holiday season tweet: “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House…” Alone and preoccupied by nonstop news about what will happen when special counsel Robert Mueller soon finishes his investigation, Trump began a tweetstorm of start-and-stop governance and name-calling:
• Agreeing to a deal that would avoid a government shutdown, but then reversing and shutting down government because he couldn’t get $5 billion for his Mexico border wall.
• Insisting he wants a big concrete wall all along the border — but then saying he doesn’t care if it is just see-through metal slats, instead. Yet, when his departing chief-of-staff supportively said Trump stopped insisting on that concrete wall long ago, Trump suddenly reversed his reversal and insisted he’d never dropped his concrete wall, after all.
• Stunning his own national security team by blurting to Turkey’s strongman president he’d withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria quickly — without even seeking staff analysis of unintended consequences.
• Rejecting Defense Secretary James Mattis’ plea that the unintended consequence of a quick U.S. troop withdrawal could be Turkey’s quick slaughter of Kurdish forces who loyally fought ISIS. Mattis, Trump’s most valuable adviser, resigned in a letter making clear his concerns. So Trump angrily said this week he “essentially” fired Mattis.
• Tweeting name-calling rants and borderline tantrums throughout the holidays, including a shot at departing Republican Senate Foreign Relations Chairman “Little Bob Corker.”
This week, after former Republican presidential candidate and Utah’s newest senator, Mitt Romney, wrote a Washington Post op-ed pointedly criticizing Trump for not rising to the character level a good president needs. “With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”
Conveying sentiments that would be shared by the modern Republican leaders I have always admired most — including Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan — Romney sought to lead his Grand Old Party in precisely the sort of thing that Republican leaders of the Senate and House have failed to do. While Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan pampered and coddled, Romney had the guts to give parental advice. “A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect,” Romney wrote.
Of course, Trump just tweet-attacked, in a tone more juvenile than presidential. “I won big, and he didn’t,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “…Be a TEAM player & WIN!”
On Sunday, the Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler reported, in an excellent front page article, that Trump had averaged 15 “lies, false statements and misleading claims” each day in 2018. Trump has told us 7,600 untruths throughout his first two years as president, Kessler reported. When Trump is attacking a perceived political enemy, he doesn’t seem to care if what he’s saying is true or a lie.
But there are moments when Trump’s shortcomings aren’t due to immaturity or vengeance, but because of his failure to even pause long enough to consider unintended consequences of his most flawed actions. For example, consider another Washington Post news report that was worth front page display, but wasn’t a news report at all.
The news was in a Post editorial that told us Wednesday that Trump’s government shutdown — done to build a border wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the USA — also shut down U.S. immigration courts. That meant the courts, which already had a 1.1 million case backlog, couldn’t allow deportation of thousands of alleged illegals. In its first 11 days alone, Trump’s shutdown permitted thousands of alleged illegals remain in the USA!
Imagine what Trump would be saying if President Barack Obama’s goofball move had allowed thousands of illegals to remain in the USA! Sad.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.