There’s Something Deeply Wrong Here

I wish I’d had more time to enjoy Spicer in the bushes. In the hectic days since president Trump dispatched his praetorian bodyguard to FBI headquarters to do away with a man who wouldn’t pledge his undying loyalty, the absurdity of  Sean Spicer’s flailing about brought some levity to the situation.

The problem is the emergent public record around the firing of James Comey doesn’t need our mirth. It needs to raise our hackles. Alarms should be ringing in our heads. Lights should be flashing and instructing us to exit the building without trampling each other. As Jonathan Chiat put it yesterday: “Trump is trying to control the FBI. It’s time to freak out.”

Trump, in fact, is trying to bend every useful organ of the federal government to his will. Some, like the Keebler Klansman Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, are not only happy kowtowers but directly involved in the move to muzzle another agency’s investigation. Dwelling too long on the imperfect parallels with Richard Nixon in the hope that Comey is what leads to impeachment misses the heart of the matter. The president has had some success in making departments either subservient to his will or has understaffed/underfunded parts of the government that could stand in the way of whatever it is he wants at any given moment.

To put it another way: we can dismiss what’s going on as another Trumpian shitshow and continue to talk about how many scoops of ice cream the president gets, or we can acknowledge the erosion of democratic norms is accelerating. It’s not much fun to admit something deeply wrong is underway, but there isn’t much that can be done for that.

Then there’s the question of 45’s mounting paranoia. When Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower over Twitter, it was shocking and bizarre. Now that the American public has had a chance to contend with this repeated and unfounded claim, it’s just bizarre. He is obsessed with the idea that someone’s listening in. Given all we’ve learned about the man and his associates since November, there’s a good chance this is an existential concern. They’re coming for me. They know what I’ve done. Rumor has it he also makes recordings of his own. His paranoia could also be projection. If I do it, so does everyone else.

Whether one or both are true, this morning saw Trump lashing out like a cornered animal.

President Trump on Friday warned James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director he fired this week, against leaking anything negative about the president …

In a series of early-morning Twitter posts, Mr. Trump even seemed to suggest that there may be secret tapes of his conversations with Mr. Comey that could be used to counter the former F.B.I. director if necessary. It was not immediately clear whether he meant that literally or simply hoped to intimidate Mr. Comey into silence.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump appeared agitated over news reports on Friday that focused on contradictory accounts of his decision to fire Mr. Comey at the same time the F.B.I. is investigating ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Trump also threatened to halt daily press briefings if… he doesn’t get more favorable coverage? Russia is never mentioned again? It doesn’t seem like much on its face other than hunkering down, but given all that’s happening more extreme measures could taken to try to maintain his grip on power.

One thing is certain in this strange and labyrinthine tale: If Donald Trump is going to threaten Comey on Twitter and intimate he has recordings of the conversation, sooner or later people are going to want to take a listen to his audio library.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Thirteen)

It Gets Weirder

Either the president is really that paranoid (his political style certainly is paranoid, and instead of cynical manipulation of the electorate it could be an organic extension of his personality);

OR

Donald Trump is asking for a formal congressional inquiry into Barack Obama’s alleged wiretapping, which he would like to have folded into the greater Congressional investigation of the Russia matter, to confuse the issue through theatrical misdirection;

OR

Obama actually did bend the intelligence community to his will, getting them to spy on Trump because he didn’t like him.

The last seems the least likely (given that the Breitbart article which triggered this latest abusive episode against the norms of society strung together disparate ideas into a nonsense theory), but none of these options is comforting in its implications.

(Year Zero/Day Forty-Five)