Autumn is here, and believe it or not, Donald Trump may be on the road to becoming America’s greatest president. Yes, that’s right: the vain, bombastic, buffoonish huckster who endured a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Summer, may be undergoing a miraculous metamorphosis. Or at least be on his way to doing something that is nearly as impossible: breaking the gridlock in Washington. I know: how could this be?
After a promising Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower, where President Macron treated Trump to the best parade a boy could ever want, the season swiftly deteriorated into weeks of legislative impotence, North Korean impudence, and the imprecation-inciting impacts of assorted hurricanes on various Gulf Coast states.
The most hatred-generating moment came in August, in the aftermath of a violent confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists who were objecting to the proposed removal from a public park of a statue of confederate General Robert E Lee, and counter-protesters who were objecting to the racist display. The march was an ugly affair; with snarling marchers carrying torches and Nazi flags, and chants of ‘Jews will not replace us,’ it was a mini-Nuremberg rally in a quiet university town. The event turned violent, and a counter-protester was killed.
Some of you may think it’s strange that throughout the American South, there are hundreds of statues of men who led a failed rebellion. It doesn’t seem to be the practice to commemorate failure in other countries. Some are quiet community memorials for men lost in combat. But most are monuments, heroic homages to broad-chested cavaliers, and most were erected not in the aftermath of the bloody conflict, but decades later, in the 20th century, after African- Americans had begun demanding their rights as citizens. In truth, these weren’t monuments, but manifestos designed to remind second-class citizens not to aspire to equality.
“Trump may still be a republic president, but he no longer has to be a republican prisoner”
Trump’s response to the violence was tepid and weaselly, a careful apportionment of blame for a situation where the provocation was all one-sided. This sudden application of nuance from a human blunderbuss was shocking, and Trump was rewarded with reproval from all points on the political spectrum, including members of his own cabinet, as well as a steep plunge in the polls. Since nothing motivates Trump more than big audiences, high ratings and other public displays of approval, the suddenly chastened president was sent into what for him is terra incognito: introspection, self-reflection, and finally to a blunt assessment of his popularity. His conclusion?
‘People really f**king hate me.’
To his credit, Trump made changes. He fired the weak, friendless White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and replaced him with John Kelly, a marine corps general who seems to have zero tolerance for bullshit. He dumped his Svengali, the blotchy blowhard Steve Bannon, who possesses the political instincts of an arsonist. He also cut back on his tweeting.
Most importantly, Trump cut his losses with Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican Congressional leaders who in eight months had brought him a list of legislative triumphs that begins and ends with the nomination of one Supreme Court judge. With winter coming to both Washington and Westeros, Trump made an out-of-the-blue deal with the Democrats to extend the debt ceiling. It wasn’t the biggest of issues – in fact, passage was a fait accompli – but by choosing the Democratic approach instead of the Republican, Trump was declaring his independence from the badly divided, all but idea-less GOP.
So delighted was Trump with this success that just days later he returned for a second helping: he and the Democrats agreed to offer citizenship to 800,000 people who as children came to the US illegally, and who have grown up as Americans but with no legal status. With this deal, Trump and the Dems solved an issue that Congress had been ducking since 2001.
He may still be a Republican president, but he no longer has to be a Republican prisoner. He has been liberated, free now to pit the parties against one another, and to choose the plan that offers him the best deal. After months of stasis, it’s possible that by Christmas he’ll sign a budget, a tax cut, and an infrastructure deal.
It would be a dream come true, a White House version of The Apprentice: Trump at the head of the table, picking the winners and banishing the losers, and people will f**king hate him no more.
All he has to do now is hope he isn’t indicted by Robert Mueller.
Jamie Malanowski is a writer, author, and former senior editor of US Esquire