Growing up in New England, you see some wild stuff in wintertime. A flock of chubby cedar waxwings, 50 strong at least, swarming into a withered cherry tree to strip every last old berry off the branches. A pair of bobcats like oiled smoke disappearing into the woods with the snow hissing down. An old upright piano standing sentinel in a shoveled-out Brighton parking spot announcing a defiant mine. One memory stands out above all, however: A huge dump truck filled with gravel gone sideways on an icy hill, sliding slowly, almost gracefully toward its inevitable crunching doom as its engine howls in futility.
I think of that truck today, and feel like I have a good understanding of what it must be like to be a Republican in 2017.
Sarah Palin made famous the “How’s that Hope and Change thing working out for ya?” line during the Obama administration. One hundred days into the Trump phenomenon, and one is forced to wonder how that “winning” thing is working out for rank-and-file Republicans. Despite controlling the White House, Senate and House, they’ve barely won anything, and the Democrats have had very little to do with the string of disasters and fiascos the GOP has unleashed on itself. It isn’t just Trump, either. These clowns own the whole federal government from soup to nuts, and their response to laying hold of such a rare prize has been to light their own neckties on fire every time they get near the furnace.
Take this last week as a prime example. The first and most important issue on the table was passing a continuing resolution before the weekend to keep the government open and functioning. In the time it took for Trump to fire up his Twitter account on Monday, the bill was suddenly in mortal peril because the president appeared all too willing to hold the process hostage until he got funding for his Mexico wall. Nervous breakdowns began popping off all over Capitol Hill and in the Treasury Department until someone sat The Donald down and said, “Hey, buddy, you keep up with this and the government will shut down exactly on your 100th day. We call that a bad look, boss. Put this back in the crackerjack box it came from, K?” Amazingly enough, common sense prevailed.
Then, in an eruption of loose-cannonism that makes the Blue Man Group look like a Nebraska prayer circle by comparison, Trump abruptly went in 17 directions at once, and at the top of his voice: THIS 100 DAYS THING IS SO SILLY I MUST HAVE VICTORIES FOR MY 100 DAYS EVEN THOUGH IT’S MEANINGLESS WE MUST WIN BIGLY AT EVERYTHING OR MAYBE JUST ONE THING SO LET’S BLOW UP HEALTH CARE AGAIN. Paul Ryan once again tried to cobble together a bill that would be acceptable to the Freedom Caucus even as it became even more radioactive to the rest of the House, managed to do so, and watched the thing die on his doorstep like a worm on a hot sidewalk. The bill never made it out of the kitchen, and a second Trump campaign promise — the wall and repealing Obamacare — collapsed like so much dandelion fluff.
Finally, there was the Trump tax “plan” that was unveiled in the middle of the week. It consisted of 19 bullet points that explained nothing beyond, “Here’s a bunch of money for rich people, let’s explode the deficit.” The GOP’s deficit hawks must have felt like the Catholics after Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to their door. “You’re gonna do what now? Remove the deduction for real estate taxes? I mean, I don’t like New Jersey much either, but this is goofy. How are you paying for this? Oh, you’re not.” Add another dead letter to the pile.
Are Trump and the Republicans bereft of “accomplishments” as we reach this ceremonial centennial moment? Far from it. Neil Gorsuch will be haunting the Supreme Court for decades to come. Vital environmental protections are being erased on a seemingly daily basis. The State Department and the EPA have almost ceased to exist. Perhaps worst of all, Trump has seen with his own two eyes how the media become chickens lost in a glorious ecstasy of fluttering and flapping whenever missiles are fired from a US warship. It’s been bad, all right, but damn. It could have been so very much worse if these people had figured out early on how the lights work in the meeting rooms.
One begins to get conspiratorial when confronted with such condensed incompetence. Are the congressional Republicans secretly running some kind of rear-guard action against Trump, blowing up bridges and cutting phone cables like the French Resistance in order to undo a president they wanted nothing to do with from the get-go? It wouldn’t surprise me; Trump is going to kill that party. By 2018, most GOP House members will probably go out and vote against themselves, just so they can flee the town and the next two years.
That’s a fun little mind movie, but in all probability Occam’s Razor — the simplest explanation is the correct one — prevails again. When three full political generations are raised on “Government is the problem,” you get people who think Donald Trump was actually a viable choice, and who haven’t the faintest idea how government actually works. Republicans campaign like angry sharks, a talent that has been in their DNA since Lee Atwater’s day, but they have very few people qualified to actually govern. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s anointed Jedi, has turned out to be a menace to himself and others when handed a sharpened pencil. He’s the best they’ve got, and at this point, he couldn’t shepherd through a bill declaring water to be wet.
There’s a truck coming down the hill. Stand aside and let it slide by. You don’t see this kind of thing every day.