Let us venture today into the Bermuda Triangle of conventional thinking.
Let us take a little tour inside the mind of the preposterous second-place and Russian-supported president.
With a conventionally thinking president, meaning all those of our lifetimes except the current one, the shutdown never would have happened or would be long over.
A dollar amount between zero and $5.7 billion would have been appropriated for border security, with the administration permitted to use some increment of the money on “physical barriers” of its choosing.
Conventionally, Donald Trump would have claimed victory because he got money for steel posts he didn’t have otherwise. The Democrats would have claimed victory because they voted for increased border security but not for any major silliness like an extended wall.
Democrats would have been the clearer winners, but Trump would have won enough to crow before he moved on to the next element of the chaos by which he draws breath.
Trump resents the concessions he’s made over two years to conventional thinkers—such as mainline Republicans assuring him they could get health care done when they couldn’t; such as the generals and lawyers telling him what he couldn’t do on North Korea and NATO when they didn’t get elected to anything; such as the chiefs of staff trying to impose discipline on him when his very essence is to defy conventional standards of disciplined political behavior, which he sees as pablum and platitude.
So, now, Trump has gotten rid of all the generals, all the original lawyers, most of the conventional or resistant Republicans and both of the nannies who did stints attempting to be a conventional chief of staff.
Trump’s newest chief of staff tried some of that conventional pablum and platitude the other day. He proposed in the presence of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer a number between zero and $5.7 billion. Trump used the “f-word” to tell him what an idiot he was, right there in front of Nancy and Chuck.
Trump allowed a few public-relations aides to prod him against his will to make a televised address from the Oval Office. A few hours before the address, he told television anchor people at lunch that it was a stupid thing to do but he’d do it anyway. He turned out to be right. And that’s surely the last time those aides—Sarah Huckabee Sanders among them—get to tell him to do anything.
Trump believes only he knows what’s best for himself, his nature, his job performance and the public appeal and connection he must fashion and retain.
He believes he will win again in 2020—winning being all that matters in his ego-consumed existence—if he keeps his base happy and the Democrats do as he expects. What he expects is that they’ll nominate someone not much more appealing than Hillary Clinton.
He thinks he can run successfully by overstating accomplishments, nurturing his base’s primitive zeal and watching the Democrats flail about ineptly trying to reconcile the left and the far left.
Notice that I describe Trump’s thinking as unconventional. I never said it was irrational or incorrect.
His thinking is clearly megalomaniacal, reckless, destructive and—left unchecked by generals, lawyers and conventional standards—quite frightful. But those political and stylistic calculations attributed here to the Trumpian mind are not at all irrational.
His path to re-election may be narrow and partially out of his hands, but he seems pretty clearly to have sized it up.
Thus, the shutdown impasse.
At the moment, it’s not in Trump’s consuming self-interest to concede anything on the wall and reopening government.
For one thing, his base would soften. For another, he calculates that the longer public attention remains focused on the faces of congressional Democrats—Pelosi’s and Schumer’s—the better the long-term prospects for his narrow path.
A president has a bigger pulpit than a couple of congressional Democrats who look like the American Gothic when they go on television.
Meanwhile, the Democrats see no need to concede because their base is similarly zealous, and primitive in its own way, and the polls show most people blaming Trump.
Something—likely some unacceptable effect of the shutdown—will eventually change the dynamic. At that point, either Trump would have a real emergency to invoke or it would become in everybody’s interest to settle the matter short of the goal line with a spike of the ball and a little dance.
For the moment, and from inside the unconventional brain of the preposterous second-place and Russian-endorsed president, the primitive base is being fed and Pelosi and Schumer are frequently in the public eye where they don’t wear well.
Everything is on course in La La Land.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.