By John L. Micek
When it came to a recent column about President Donald Trump’s preference for “executive time” that includes a healthy dose of cable news viewing and unhinged Tweeting, the reader wasn’t in the mood to hold back.
“This article was just a pack of lies,” wrote a reader of the Mansfield News Journal in Mansfield, Ohio, where my column occasionally runs. “Please don’t lie to the American people. Donald Trump runs on less sleep than anyone or any President in history. Stop this constant attack on this President.”
Then, the inevitable flourish: “Your precious Hillary did not win so get over it!!!!!!”
I’ve received plenty of letters and emails just like this in the year since Donald John Trump mounted the steps of the U.S. Capitol, took the oath of office, and embarked on the most exhausting, topsy-turvy and wildly offensive first 365 days of any president in modern memory.
Every time I’ve questioned the constitutionality of one of Trump’s decisions, pointed out his glancing relationship with the truth, indicted his xenophobic tendencies and maddening embrace of white nationalism, or mused on the ever-expanding Russia investigation, Trump’s loyalists have pounced.
Some have been polite. Others have used the kind of language that the “least racist” president you’ll ever interview also reportedly used to describe immigrants from majority black- and brown-skinned nations.
All these readers have offered variations on the same argument: Trump has done more than Barack Obama did in eight years in office; he plays less golf and takes less vacation, and, anyway, at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.
Obscured in these factually incorrect arguments is a nugget of actual truth: Despite an embarrassingly slender list of legislative accomplishments, Trump, as The Associated Press reports, has kept an impressive (if you’re a supporter) or depressing (if you’re not) number of his campaign promises.
On the judicial side, Trump pursued the ultimately successful confirmation of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, populated the federal bench with right-leaning judges and has done the same with the ranks of United States Attorneys across the country.
Trump won legislative authorization of a decidedly non-populist tax bill that will shower tax breaks on the very wealthy (like him) at the expense of the working-class voters who packed his rallies during the 2016 campaign.
He’s used the power of the pen to slice and dice regulations and extract the United States from such major foreign accords as the Paris climate agreement.
And despite lambasting Obama for his executive end-runs, Trump has signed more executive orders than any president of the last 50 years.
It’s almost as if there’s two White Houses. There’s the surprisingly orthodox one that has back-burnered the populism of the 2016 campaign and governs like the most mainstream conservative Republican you’ve ever seen.
Then there’s the one that emerges from the pages of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which puts the fun in ‘dysfunction’ and is lorded over by a disconnected chief executive who boasts both a poor command of the most basic policy details and a 6:30 p.m. bedtime.
Trump’s voters are logically aggrieved that the president’s list of accomplishments don’t get the praise they think they should from the political press.
Then, torpedoing that argument, they illogically follow that with the entirely incorrect claim that they are not covered at all.
“Fake news!” they bellow.
What they overlook is the inconvenient truth that, when it comes to stepping on his own message, the 45th president has no more effective nemesis than himself.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, we were told last summer, would professionalize the White House and impose order where once there had been chaos.
And there is some evidence to support that argument.
But we’re still left with schoolyard taunts of “Little Rocket Man,” “Sloppy Steve” Bannon and “Dicky” Durbin and other early morning tweetstorms that undermine our reputation abroad, damage our democratic institutions, and devour the news cycle at home.
Heading into a 2018 mid-term cycle, where Resistance-emboldened Democrats are expected to make major gains against Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress, the president’s voters surely wish that their fellow Americans will cast their ballots in favor of the accomplishments of that “shadow White House.”
But there’s a reason that White House exists in the shadows – it’s Trump himself. And it’s his White House on which voters will pass judgment in 2018.
“Sad!” as the man might say. But entirely justified.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.