And this is really not a news conference. It's not a speech. It's not anything. It's just we're sort of — it's a celebration, because we have something that just worked out. I mean, it worked out. We went through hell, unfairly. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong. I've done things wrong in my life, I will admit. Not purposely, but I've done things wrong. But this is what the end result is...
I said in my last entry that I prefer to read Donald Trump's speeches over listening to them, and his... "not anything"... on the subject of his impeachment trial is Exhibit A in why not. I mean, just look at the above excerpt, copied from the transcript at Factbase.
He spent a lot of time thanking individual GOP politicians, who he must know are feeling sore and overextended after sticking their necks out for him, but he digresses all over the place, mentioning Abe Lincoln without really saying anything or suggesting that he endorsed Debbie Lesko because he liked the sound of her name.
Speculation over Trump's declining health spiked after some well-publicized spasms during the State of the Union, during which he also seemed to be gripping the podium for dear life and leaning heavily on it. I don't think that being tired should disqualify someone from holding office. I've certainly had to lean on a podium in my life, and I am also prone to full-body twitches and spasms that also garble what's coming out of my mouth. Chronic conditions happen, and I don't think it's proper or necessary for anyone to try a remote armchair diagnosis of someone we see on TV.
But I think it is proper to talk about what's happening, and that is... he's deteriorating.
And more so than any visible need for support or pronunciation failures, the thing that worries me is what seems to be happening to his filters.
I know, I know... filters and Donald don't seem like they belong in the same sentence, right?
And yet something jumped out at me from Daniel Dale's round-up of his remarks today.
That's two separate mentions in the space of a few minutes of something being rated by how boring it is. Now, it's not exactly a state secret that Donald sees a big part of his role as being showman slash TV producer-in-chief, and that he prefers to use manufactured suspense and drama and razzle-dazzle to keep our attention, which he assumes is as hard to keep as his own. But to just come right out and talk about crucial matters in terms of how boring as they are, when he's talking to the press, the public, and not his inner circle or his loyal army of mouthpieces... it strikes me as a slip.
When I was talking to Sunny Moraine (@dynamicsymmetry) about his impeachment address yesterday, one thing they noted — with the caveat that this is subjective — is that it seems like his situation awareness is not entirely there. It might seem even stranger to mention the phrase "sense of appropriateness" with respect to him, but in their opinion, he showed less of it than normal, and I am inclined to agree.
Maybe it was the joy of having a hand-picked friendly audience of allies, maybe it was his exuberance at having an event specifically to crow for his victory... maybe it was both of those things and something else. But his always rambling, rarely formal style was more rambling and less formal than ever, and it seemed like even more than normal he didn't have a firm grasp of where he was or who he was talking to.
You can watch/listen to or read the speech at the link above and see if you agree. As I've been talking to my usual correspondents in the right-wing watching world these past few days, we've all had this same hard to define sense of a change. It's not something entirely, more like the newest iteration of an ongoing trajectory. Donald Trump has lived his life in the public eye. He's been a steady presence on television for most of the 21st century. You can compare his speech and bearing from two decades ago, and a decade ago, and even a few years back, to now and there's a stark progression.
And it's not a good one.
Again, I don't think we should try to diagnose specific conditions or pharmaceutical interactions, but that doesn't mean we have to pretend that nothing is happening. I think it's worth considering that one of the factors in the GOP's continued support of him is that they're hoping he will last in the office just long enough to carry them through the election, so they don't have to try to find another candidate or anger his base by forcing him out. Other than the goodwill of his loyal army of fanatics, there's nothing that Pence couldn't give them with far fewer headaches.
Whatever is going on — even if it's just a heady mix of the lack of sleep and lack of consequences — anything that wears away at his already thin filters is bound to make him more volatile and more dangerous. In the case that his enablers are counting on the idea that his eventual breakdown will allow them to turn him into a sympathetic figure and them into unwitting bystanders to a poor man who didn't know any better, we should be prepared to remind them.
In the meantime, I would be cautious about heeding any predictions that "he can't go on like this" and "the family will intervene soon". The people who have been saying that have been saying that since his first year in office. I don't think the GOP has any route to victory in 2020 that doesn't involve the full-throated support of Trump's base, and I don't think they see one, either. If they have to strap him to a dolly and wheel him to a podium in public appearances, they'll do it. If they have to send Ivanka to sub in at debates — if they allow debates — they'll do it.
They have tied themselves to this man so tightly that they will rise and fall as he does, which means they will go to enormous lengths, extraordinary lengths, to keep him from falling.
But of course, we saw that on Wednesday, didn't we?