The Slatest

OK, This Time Is Worse Than Usual

Donald Trump speaks aggressively as his head is seen in profile against a blurry presidential seal.
At the White House on Thursday.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

We have a running gag here at Slate about how every month or so a breathless insider report declares that the White House is “in chaos”—that an “increasingly isolated” Donald Trump is “lashing out” as “the walls close in” on his “imperiled” presidency. These stories appear for two reasons. One is that many Washington journalists still can’t wrap their heads around the reality that Trump doesn’t actually lose political support or momentum, like other presidents would, when he creates giant fiascos by being an idiot. The other is that liberals love to click and read the stories because they present a wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the administration is on the verge of collapse. And yet, every time, Trump emerges from the chaos with the same level of control over the Republican Party (and thus the government) that he had before, and the country goes muddling along. (Which isn’t to say, to be clear, that everything has been great since 2016—that’s not true—but that most things in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the U.S. continue to operate in a “normal” pre-Trump way and that major tragic developments have not been particularly related to White House intrigue and disorganization.)

But, OK, yes, things feel chaotic right now. This still from CNN explains it well:

Let’s run down where those stories are at Friday and throw in a few more:

• Secretary of Defense James Mattis is, indeed, resigning in protest over Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw forces from Syria. It’s a decision that, according to the latest reporting, was more or less dictated by the authoritarian leader of Turkey—who wants America out so that he can slaughter the Kurds, longtime allies of the U.S. who we are surprising/betraying by leaving so suddenly.

• As the national security writer Marcy Wheeler points out, among the reasons that Trump has to be deferential toward Turkey are 1) Turkey might have dirt about former national security adviser Michael Flynn advocating corruptly for pro-Turkey policies while he was on Turkey’s payroll, 2) Trump needs Turkey to stop making noise about how the Trump administration allowed Saudi Arabia to kidnap, torture, and and murder Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul without any repercussions, and 3) Turkey’s interests in Syria overlap with those of Russia, another country that may possess incriminating material about corrupt behavior by Trump and Flynn that has been in the news recently because of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. The president is possibly being blackmailed! Very neat.

• Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, a random cable-news twit who worked until recently for a company that promoted next-generation hot tubs and toilets for men with large penises before it got shut down by the FTC, has rejected advice from Department of Justice ethics officials that he recuse himself from supervising the Mueller investigation. (Whitaker criticized Mueller in cable appearances before getting initially hired at DOJ to work for ex-A.G. Jeff Sessions, and was apparently advised that those statements created the appearance of bias.) It may not surprise you that the document Whitaker has released to justify his decision appears to be incomplete and confusing; it also puts him in a position to sabotage Mueller’s investigation just as it appears to be coming to a climax.

• The House has passed legislation that will only continue funding the government if the budget includes $5 billion for Trump’s vaunted border wall. That legislation does not seem like it can pass the Senate because it would require 60 votes (filibuster rules and all that) and there are not 60 Republicans in the Senate. But Trump has suddenly decided he won’t sign any budget that does not include the funding for his widely unclamored-for 1,951-mile* wall through empty mountain/desert terrain (a wall which Mexico was supposed to pay for anyway), which means we are likely headed for a partial government shutdown.

• Axios reports that Trump is already complaining about incoming interim White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who took the job only after like a hundred other people said they didn’t want it.

• Stock market, still not great.

In summary, while things are typically disorganized and dumb in the Trump administration, they are now getting disorganized and dumb in a way that has widespread consequences: (More) people in the Middle East dying gruesomely, people losing their paychecks in the U.S. at Christmas, and maybe an unprecedented crisis of government regarding the president’s corrupt debt to foreign powers. #MAGA!

Correction, Dec. 21: This post initially misstated the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is 1,950-ish miles long, not 1,800 miles. Trump’s proposed wall/fence/whatever would ostensibly cover somewhere under 1,000 miles of that.