There is a scene in the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick The Terminator that makes me think of Donald Trump, though not quite in the context Bone Spurs Batman would probably prefer. In the movie, Arnold is in some shabby hotel room pulling bullets out of his face when a man knocks on the door and asks if everything is OK. The film's view shifts to Schwarzenegger's perspective -- a red computer screen shot of the door with data flicking by in the corners and a list of possible replies in the center -- and we see him choose his colorful retort.
Know what's better than being born on third base? Being born in the owner's box.
I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Mr. Trump sees the world in a way not entirely unlike this, especially when he is speaking formally to the press. Bereft as he is of any personal philosophy, governing experience, moral code or earned wisdom, Trump must from time to time fall back on a set of pre-programmed answers that appear on his screen in a neat little stack. These are not his thoughts. They belong to the coders.
It was a full week of not talking about banning assault weapons or age limits on gun purchases.
Remember "I hear you"? Same thing in note card form. The server must have been down that day.
The president of the United States is not a thoughtful, intelligent man by any metric currently known to the species. He is, however, in possession of a certain low cunning, like a fisher cat with the instincts of a sniper. He is living testament to the fact that being rich and utterly without scruples will take you far. Know what's better than being born on third base? Being born in the owner's box. Everyone looks smart way up there.
Evidence of this is found in the manner Trump chooses to deploy some of his preset replies. Among the coders who created them are brash fascists like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre, which means there are some real doozies in there. It is Trump, however, who chooses the timing and context of their release. Doing so, he reveals himself as a true Master Troll with a genuine taste for the throat.
Donald Trump doesn't know about any of this history and couldn't care less. Before last week, he thought "AR-15" was a setting on his tanning booth.
The most vivid recent example came last week when, surrounded by the survivors of the Parkland massacre and their families, Trump proposed arming teachers as a "solution" to the school shooting crisis. The result was a near-unanimous global facepalm; even eyeless crustaceans scuttling through eternal midnight on the floor of the Marianas Trench slapped their claws to their shells in disgust. Trump proposed it again, and then again, and the ensuing firestorm rages on to this moment.
It was a week of generally not talking about banning assault weapons or age limits on gun purchases, two topics that could gain significant traction if given a proper public airing. Can't have that, right? So it's "Arm the teachers!" and hats over the windmill. Legitimate proposals are trampled in the stampede to denounce a proposal so far-fetched that even some loyal NRA members at CPAC were balking … and folks like that failing to agree with the mothership is akin to Pope Francis refusing the communion wafer on Easter. That's how goofy this idea was.
This isn't to say there aren't some out there who think this is the best idea since full metal jackets. The NRA was advocating for armed teachers years before someone put the thought into Trump's head. This would be a major coup for the John Birch Society -- a legitimately dangerous radical right organization with roots dating back to the 19th century -- which successfully overthrew the previous NRA leadership and transformed what was once an organization focused on safe firearm use into the blister of violence advocacy it has become. If the Birchers can get guns into schools, they will have conquered the "liberal" classroom once and for all … plus, think of all those potential new dues-paying NRA members.
Donald Trump doesn't know about any of this history and couldn't care less. Before last week, he thought "AR-15" was a setting on his tanning booth. What he does know, however, are the arts of enforced chaos, deliberate disorder, saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time with intent, and jabbing a constant thumb in the eye of the country because he didn't get invited to the right parties back when he was a philandering skinflint landlord who didn't pay his bills.
Trump's own allies are hardly immune to getting rolled in this fashion. After spending a full week lighting everyone's hair on fire with tales of armed teachers, Trump pulled a 180 on Wednesday in a meeting with lawmakers at the White House.
Suddenly, he wants to expand background checks to close the gun show loophole, ban "bump stocks," raise the age limit for gun purchases, have a serious conversation about assault weapons and limit the ability of the mentally ill to own a gun. At one point, he suggested disarming mentally ill people without due process. "I like taking the guns early," he said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second." He even took time to slap down the looming concealed-carry reciprocity bill, the top item on the NRA's wish list, calling it all but doomed.
According to The New York Times, the phone lines between the NRA and their congressional allies were incandescent with rage. Small wonder, that. The NRA is in love with this reciprocity bill, which would make a concealed-carry permit legal in all 50 states. Furthermore, the idea of disarming anyone without due process is to the pro-gun right what arming teachers in schools is to the gun-reform left: A red flag to a bull, the Fabled Automatic, an immediate fight to the teeth. The image of him huddled in close conference with Diane Feinstein, making promises all the while, was more salt in the wound. Yeah, that happened, too.
We're not talking about genuine gun reform because we've got the homeroom teacher packing heat.
The Republicans emerged from the meeting looking like a yak herd stunned by a thunderstorm. Jon Cornyn, who sat next to Trump during the whole meeting wearing the expression of a man sitting on a pine cone, called the event "surreal." Marco Rubio, fresh from getting sacked like Troy by a high school kid, dutifully toed the NRA line.
It was Ben Sasse of Nebraska who best captured the essence of the experience: "We're not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn't like them." There you have it, period, end of file. "And then," writes conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, "the moment passes. He'll soon embrace the opposite position and go along with aides yanking him back into line with the rest of the GOP." It's not Trump. It's the coders. He does not care. He just delights in the mayhem, and of course, the attention.
It's hard to maintain a society when all we talk about is the latest confused nonsense coughed up by the commander-in-chief. When that nonsense blinds us to the fact that Trump and his crew are stealing the furniture right out from under us on a daily basis, it becomes worthy of profound concern.
People seem to think this administration is flailing under the weight of its own inadequacies, but the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation believes Trump is doing a bang-up job, thank you very much. According to its director of congressional and executive branch relations, Trump has accomplished 64 percent of the 334 agenda items he came into office with, a list that covers a broad spectrum of immigration, tax reform, foreign policy, health care and deregulation issues. That's faster than Reagan, Heritage says. When the Heritage Foundation says you've gone above and beyond Saint Ronnie, it means the wealthy are well pleased.
What could happen tomorrow is the beginning of an honest, robust national debate on whether or not we want weapons of war loose on our streets, and whether a kid who can't legally purchase a beer should be able to buy an AR-15 with his paper route money.
How can it be that this small fraction of a man and his bin of shabby jackboots are accomplishing anything at all, much less 64 percent of their far-right agenda? Having both chambers of Congress on board is helpful, but that place is an Escher painting on fire. The rest of the explanation, sadly, must be laid at the feet of the Master Troll and his peerless ability to scramble a conversation.
We're not talking about genuine gun reform because we've got the homeroom teacher packing heat. We're not talking about climate change because it's all a hoax. It goes on and on like this until, for many, a collective throwing-up-of-the-hands takes place, often on a daily basis, because exhaustion and exasperation are now our resting state.
This is no accident. The man with the fisher cat smile knows how to verbally cannonball a swimming pool to brutal effect, and the real work of this White House takes place obscured by the turmoil he leaves in his wake. It doesn't take brains. It takes cunning. Also, like Trump, you have to love the splash.
No one will be putting guns into the hands of teachers in either the near or distant future. Not to say it might not happen someday, but it's not happening tomorrow. What could happen tomorrow is the beginning of an honest, robust national debate on whether or not we want weapons of war loose on our streets, and whether a kid who can't legally purchase a beer should be able to buy an AR-15 with his paper route money. To his credit, Trump appeared to advance this conversation in astonishing fashion on Wednesday, but as we have seen time and again, he will likely blow the whole thing up after he gets an NRA brain dump from the next person who walks in the room.
Stick to the main tent. That's where the real show is. Everything else is clowns.
That honest and robust national debate won't happen if we allow ourselves to snap at the dangled bait every time Supercheddar pops off about running into the line of fire. As columnist Eugene Robinson counsels, "The deliberately outrageous idea of arming classroom teachers is nothing more than a distraction, a ploy by the gun lobby to buy time for passions to cool. Don't get sidetracked."
That gun lobby is writing some of Trump's more disreputable lines, as we have seen this past week. The time is historically ripe for real change when it comes to guns, and heroes are in ample supply. We fail them by letting a troll drive the conversation. Let's not do that anymore.
Stick to the main tent. That's where the real show is. Everything else is clowns.