It seems 100 years ago now. In March of 2016, Donald J. Trump became the first candidate for president to allude to the size of his private parts on national television. “I can guarantee you, there’s no problem,” he volunteered during a Republican presidential debate that veered into mean and uncharted territory.
So much for the party of Lincoln and Reagan. Here was a signpost that declared: Political convention is about to be turned on its head. Let the circus begin.
Now a day seldom passes when some strangeness or scandal doesn’t offend the old norms. There are so many bizarre moments that we can’t keep track of them all.
Trump supporters don’t care. Like many Americans, they’re fed up with the anemic state of the two political parties and with politicians who spend their days pretending to do something. Trump supporters like it when their man dumps on political norms and the people who practice them.
Still, it can’t always be easy being a Trump supporter. As role models go, he doesn’t exhibit all of the traits we associate with admirable human beings. Even if you like Trump, you know this to be true.
Plus, he seems addicted to the chaos that leaves confusion and dysfunction in its wake. The Trump White House is awash in self-inflicted wounds that make it more difficult for his administration to govern.
And then there are all those contradictions.
If you’re a blue-collar worker, you appreciate his many promises to help working men and women, but you wonder when he’s going to get started. Here’s a president who promised to drain the swamp, and then created an administration by and for Wall Street.
If you own a business or a farm, you like his anti-regulatory stance, but you worry about a trade policy that threatens to shut off important world markets.
If you’re a social conservative, you like his opposition to abortion, but you wish you didn’t have to answer for his marital infidelity and his narcissism. Humility and moderation are not his strong suits.
And if you want to curb immigration, you’re now disappointed he’s talking about a deal that would grant amnesty to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. He said he wouldn’t do that.
For Trump supporters, the good news is that he keeps everyone off-balance, wondering what unconventional and contradictory thing he will do next.
And the bad news is that he keeps everyone off-balance, wondering what unconventional and contradictory thing he will do next.
After a year in office, Trump has made himself into the least-popular president in history. His approval ratings languish in the 30s, and a poll last week showed that his approval ratings are below 50 percent in 38 of the 50 states.
For a president who won majorities in 30 states only 15 months ago, this is not good news. Most of the states that elected him are now having second thoughts.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are — simultaneously — afraid to challenge him and afraid that he will become an albatross around their necks.
Trump, of course, is a pitchman first, last and always. He has spent his life selling deals and, when necessary, exaggerating, embellishing and cherry-picking information in the name of making the sale.
So it was that his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night was replete with a deal maker’s sleight of hand. He spent a lot of time claiming credit for economic trends that began when Democrat Barack Obama was president.
This is what politicians do, of course. In that way, the speech was remarkably conventional. If this becomes the model for a reset of the Trump presidency, some said, he might regain some of his lost popularity.
Will his flirtation with political convention last? Probably he doesn’t know.
Trump is his own creation, but he is also a creation of the time in which we live.
The obsession with celebrity and notoriety and the coarsening of popular culture didn’t start with Donald Trump.
Nor is Trump — for all his bluster and deception — responsible for the political dysfunction that has exposed the fault lines in our democracy. Americans were disillusioned and cynical before Trump came along. Indeed, the disillusionment and cynicism made it possible for him to succeed.
America has the talent and resources to do what’s needed — to fix roads, improve school performance, retrain workers in Rust Belt towns, provide affordable health care, resolve its immigration problems and more. But it will have to learn how to take care of business.
Trump won’t make it better. In the end, it’s all show business with him. But the chaos of the Trump presidency serves to remind us that the country needs to wise up, or expect to remain mired in the politics of division and disappointment long after Donald Trump has come and gone.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.