Time for a Donald Trump intervention?

Trump’s behaviour is debasing the U.S. presidency. But don’t expect his Republican family to intervene yet.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

For a time I was fascinated by the A&E program Intervention, which chronicled addiction but was told (largely) from the point of view of the addict’s family.

It was excruciating for the family to watch their loved one dying, and frustrating to watch the family excuse and enable the addict’s behaviour. Eventually the family was convinced by therapists to coerce the addict—through an intervention—into rehab by promising to cut off all future contact with them should the addict fail to seek treatment.

I don’t think Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill love President Donald Trump, or even think of him as family—or, for that matter, that the President is a drug addict—but it is beyond question that they should be cutting off all contact. As long as Trump’s partisan family gives him cover he will continue to debase his office, and the country, with behaviour like this week’s vile Twitter attack on MSNBC journalist Mika Brzezinski.

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In case you missed it, Trump took issue with the Morning Joe host for mocking his fake Time magazine covers on air, including a reference to the president’s purported small hand size. The latter bit was unquestionably a juvenile dig—one then-candidate Trump had famously freaked out about on the campaign trail—but it didn’t justify the president’s broadside back.

Trump labelled Brzezinski “low IQ crazy Mika” and her co-host (and husband) Joe Scarborough “psycho” before asserting that Brzezinski was bleeding “badly” from a botched facelift when the couple tried to join him at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club, over the New Year’s holiday.

It shouldn’t need saying this kind of behaviour debases the presidency of the United States of America; the Leader of the Free World isn’t supposed to be a thin-skinned baby. But apparently it does, given the number of Republican lawmakers and staffers refusing to condemn their leader’s behaviour.

With White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer off in the salt mines, it was left to his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to defend Trump’s tweets, saying, “I think the American people elected somebody who’s tough, smart, and a fighter.”

Only a blinkered partisan would think the most powerful man in the world bullying a morning show host in a crude and juvenile manner is “tough”. Only someone of low political IQ would think it “smart” to launch an attack like this when you’re trying to get a contentious—and overdue—piece of health care reform through Congress.

But on the last item Sanders has a point. Americans did elect a “fighter”. One they knew lived to hit below the belt. It’s only when they get sick of Trump’s conduct that something will change.

Don’t hold your breath.

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Sanders can perhaps be excused, given she is paid to defend Trump come what may. Even then, I can’t think of any women I worked with in politics who would have gone to bat for the behaviour displayed by Trump yesterday. Then again, dignity is a vastly degraded commodity in this White House.

The same is true across much of Washington D.C. It is party before country—on both sides of the aisle. Legitimate criticism is a smear, anything proposed by the opposite side is poison and going against your party, no matter its behaviour, is always betrayal.

And while it’s true that a handful of Republicans condemned the Mika attack, too few did. Just like too few have condemned any of Trump’s previous stupidity, from his Obama wiretap claims to firing James Comey. Rest assured that had a Democrat in the Oval Office done the same—on any of these fronts—the competition for the opportunity to bark criticism on cable TV would have been its own reality TV show.

No, the Republican family clearly isn’t willing to talk tough to their troubled relative in the White House and stage an intervention. Why? Because a majority of their supporters love the president’s behaviour, or at least hate the other guys (including the media) more than they hate their own feelings of shame.

The sad truth is that fewer and fewer American politicians have to compete with their ideological opponents. With congressional seats gerrymandered to a degree a contortionist couldn’t fathom, sympathy (i.e. common feeling) becomes harder to generate.

This invitation to partisanship has only been magnified by the splintering of media audiences and the death of local journalism. Politicians now face regular insurgencies from their own fringe wings, fuelled by new, rabidly partisan outlets, and are losing the ability (and inclination) to moderate between competing views.

The surest route to short-term political survival is to outbid the fringe and beat your chest like the alpha of the pack, no matter how crude your behaviour might appear to people who don’t normally go your way.

The irony is that Trump was elected on a promise to end the partisan gridlock this approach has produced. His only route to survival now is to dig in deeper and fire back harder, including at the press. It’s morbid sport and horribly corrosive to democracy.

An intervention at this point would be useless. The addict typically has to hit rock bottom before his or her behaviour is changed. The best intervention therapist in the world couldn’t fix Trump as long as his daily needs are met. Right now Trump has a roof over his head, money and a nuclear arsenal at his disposal, and a family that is happy to look the other way. Angry Trump is here to stay.

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