Column: The national emergency is all in our president’s skull

President Trump at the White House.
(Erik S Leisser / EPA-Shutterstock)

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced he was running for president in 2015, he said he wanted to see America “no longer being passive in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression.” When Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced her 2020 presidential bid on Monday, she said, “I’m running for every parent who wants a better world for their kids.”

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, he said, “Mexicans. They’re rapists.”

Why did anyone even air that clip without using seven-second delay to bleep out Trump’s creepy racist rape-fantasy madness? Why did cable TV run and rerun it? Maybe we couldn’t believe it, so it had to spool around and around so we could take it all in. But there it was: Trump’s lecherous invocation of sexual violence. His absurdist lying. And of course his lynching-era pretext for racist subjugation and violence.


Trump has declared war on our institutions because of a fantasy, in which he saves imaginary women, bound with imaginary electrical tape, from imaginary rape.

That speech was a brick to the head. It should have been inadmissible in the public sphere. In three words, Trump told us he was a vicious demagogue who would drag us all down to vanquish his imaginary demons. But at that moment, he also wasn’t tracking. Donald Trump was running for president because Mexicans, they’re rapists. Huh?

Now, with his Friday Rose Garden speech, Trump has declared war on our institutions because of that same fantasy, in which he saves imaginary women, bound with imaginary electrical tape, from imaginary rape by ineffectively and expensively walling out refugees and immigrants on the southern border. It adds up to a national emergency in the president’s skull only.

Long ago, shutting down the government was a desperate and destructive measure. Trump blew right past desperate and destructive with his proposed Muslim ban, his decision to separate children from their parents, and his inhumane internment camps. Then he shut down the government for the longest it’s ever been shuttered.

All this because he won’t budge on delusions that used to make rally-goers cheer. The compulsive voice in Trump’s head, and his preoccupation with it, continues to overtake his rallies — demolition derbies where to my eye dwindling crowds now appear skeptical, coerced or both.

Lest anyone believe Trump pursues his border hallucinations because most Americans share them, remember that in El Paso last week, the sitting American president’s crowds were equaled if not bettered by a Democratic also-ran without a bully pulpit or a personal cable news network. Beto O’Rourke, who holds no public office and whose convocation venue wasn’t ablaze with TV cameras, drew the same size audience, and by some estimates a bigger one, than Trump did.


Meanwhile, far-right media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are loudly laughing at Trump — and, weirder still, laughing at what’s left of his would-be base.

“The goal of a national emergency is for Trump to scam the stupidest people in his base for 2 more years,” Coulter tweeted Friday. Coulter is rude, but she has a point: Trump is playing his base for chumps. Sadly, there are still some people determined to ignore the idiocy and admire the bellowing.

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And yet, over the last two years American voters — the majority of whom supported Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2016 election — have recognized the danger the president poses to the nation. Many of them have risen to the occasion, putting their lives on hold to support Democratic candidates and even run for office themselves. Others have helped the people Trump threatens — refugees, those who missed paychecks in the shutdown, victims of sexual violence — by taking to the streets and the courts to defuse the real national emergency, the one in the White House.

That activism has allowed a new majority in the House to meet the president’s bullheaded brinksmanship head-on. Better yet, dozens of Trump’s fellow travelers have run for lifeboats. To hear them tell it, they have not been enjoying the music or the food on Trump’s Titanic.

The apostates include former White House special assistant Cliff Sims, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster, former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, former chiefs of staff John F. Kelly and Reince Priebus, and dozens of other people close to Trump who have in their own words or as sources in news reports proclaimed the president a dangerous, delusional fool.

So dangerous and so delusional that former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe says the Justice Department discussed using the 25th Amendment, with its protections against crazy commanders in chief, to remove Trump from office after he fired McCabe’s erstwhile boss, James B. Comey. If McCabe can be believed (and there are counter narratives), sober men and women who know and work with Trump considered him a threat to the country.

The Trump shipwreck was apparent to many of us the day he announced his run. After Friday’s flagrant trespassing of the Constitution, and thus his oath of office (already in tatters), even the farthest of the far right ought to admit that Trump is democracy’s full catastrophe.

Twitter: @page88

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