Because the president is simultaneously a know-it-all and a know-nothing, his stupid words inflame us. While Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell abet the looting of the country, it’s easy to become consumed with the quasi-coherent Donald Trump blurts out. A good percentage of Trump’s base — the deplorables, say — savors each of these moments. They obsess over anything that creates liberal tears, taking any given outrage as a foretaste of that final eradication of progressivism they’re certain is yet to come.
But few of these gaffes, faux pas, or acts of taboo-smashing have much affect on material reality. Last week’s Fake News Awards went kerplunk, but even if they hadn’t, the ratio of smoke to fire was very high. Same goes for the obnoxious, passive-aggressive voicemail the White House phones used during the three-day government shutdown. They’re embarrassing, but they don’t cause harm human to bodies in any direct way.
Of course, nothing’s entirely symbolic and nothing’s entirely without symbolism. You might even argue the entire political economy of Trumpism depends on the mutilation of old symbols and the propagation of new ones. And while degradation to civil society rightly makes us queasy, it’s the quantifiable things that should retain our focus. In the end, the real damage Trump is doing is a matter of deeds, not petty words. And with his first year in office wrapping up over the weekend, he’s done a lot.
Yet most of the lists compiling Trump’s sins tut-tut over intangibles. So let’s ignore the tweets, no matter how febrile or poorly spelled. Let’s ignore the casually outrageous remarks, no matter how infuriating, and the lies, no matter how easily disproven. Let’s focus on actions. Here are the five worst things the Republicans have done during the first year of the Trump administration.
Allowing Puerto Rico to Implode
There was a moment last year when conservatives tried to blame Katrina on Obama even though he wasn’t even president, so you know how low the natural-disaster bar has been set. But truly, the federal government letting Puerto Rico languish after Hurricane Maria was and is inexcusably evil. While the tossing of the paper towels got lots of attention, the death toll is far higher than estimated, and Puerto Rico might be in a permanent cycle of depopulation and decline. While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s blatant cronyism got nixed, electricity is still off in huge swaths of the island with only about four months before the next hurricane season begins. Puerto Rico is in abysmal shape owing to a toxic combination of political ineptitude and racism, and it came from the top.
Sticking It to Solar to Protect Coal
Today’s news that the federal government will slap a 30-percent tariff on solar-panel imports was no outlier. From the beginning, Trump has pledged fealty to coal, an absurdly anachronistic energy policy — although one that resonates in Appalachia, as West Virginia responded by giving Trump the biggest margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in any state.
Never mind that employment growth in renewables dwarfs the coal industry, which has been dying for decades. And of course, we know that Trump hates the Paris Accords even though his obsequious courtesans whispered favorably in his ear, and he also doesn’t know the difference between weather and climate. He hates wind turbines because he thinks they’re ugly — they’re not; try driving on Interstate 10 to Palm Springs without being mesmerized — and you can see them from his club in Scotland. But his anti-solar animus is bad policy for no discernible benefit, and the downside is the potential inhabitability of planet Earth sometime in the next two centuries, even if we clean the coal.
Packing the Judiciary With Unqualified Right-Wing Appointees
Starting with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to a stolen Supreme Court seat, the GOP has managed to ram. Gorsuch could serve for decades, although since he replaced Antonin Scalia, his installation on the court doesn’t tilt its ideological composition further rightward.
It’s the lower levels the judiciary where Senate Republicans have managed to do their dirty work. They installed John Bush on the Sixth Circuit in spite of his comparing abortion with slavery, for instance. And after the American Bar Association rated Charles Goodwin “unqualified,” Trump signaled that he would simply ignore the ABA’s recommendations, apparently because it’s hopelessly compromised by partisan squishes. The silver lining to all this? At least nominee Brett J. Talley, the 36-year-old who’d never tried a case, withdrew his name from consideration after Senate Republicans balked at his awfulness. So did Jeff Mateer, who’d said transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan.”
Firing the Director of the FBI
Trump was technically within his rights to sack James Comey in May, but there’s a reason FBI directors serve 10-year terms. It’s because law enforcement needs to be free of political considerations. Terminating the guy who’s investigating you is basically an admission of guilt — and the move was unprecedented. (Yes, Bill Clinton fired the FBI director in 1993, but that was after a 161-page report detailed William Sessions’ numerous ethical violations.)
Firing Comey was also scary because Trump showed his hand as an autocrat who doesn’t care about the independence of democratic institutions. The longer the Mueller investigation continues and the longer Republicans attempt to chip away at the impeccable career public servant’s legitimacy — Mueller is a lifelong Republican, after all — the higher the odds that we will face a genuine constitutional crisis when it wraps up. Were Mueller to indict Jared Kushner or if his findings implicate Trump himself, the president might very well do something extreme. And if we find ourselves in a situation where Donald J. Trump attempts to pardon himself and Republicans stand by him, America will basically have exited democracy.
The Tax Atrocity
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley advocated for tax cuts for the wealthy because poor people were just going to blow that extra cash on booze and women. (This is important. When Sen. Orrin Hatch retires in a year, Grassley will become the longest-serving GOP senator, and therefore third in line for the presidency after Mike Pence and Paul Ryan.) And that sentiment illustrates the state of class warfare in America rather nicely, after we’ve been fed one heaping pile of bullshit after another about how working-class white people vote Republican because of the party’s “economic populism.”
The tax scam is still fresh in our minds, but it bears repeating that this was a trillion-dollar giveaway with almost no macroeconomic rationale. A fine example of why Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will never move to get rid of Trump — he’s so suggestible! — it gave the GOP a much-needed “win” in the eyes of horserace-obsessed, centrist pundits. The whole thing almost makes a person pine for Steve Bannon, who was actually pretty enlightened on the issue of taxes.
Semi-Symbolic Runner-Up: Being Too Chickenshit to Visit California Even Once
Trump was supposed to go to Wisconsin at one point, but cancelled because planned protests would have hurt the emperor’s feewings. And it doesn’t look as though that state dinner in the United Kingdom, our closest ally, will be happening anytime soon. But Trump sure loathes California. Preferring to golf at least 90 times during his first year in office, Donald Trump couldn’t face the Golden State even a single time in 365 days — not even a stop at his own club in Palos Verdes while en route to Asia. He doesn’t seem to have set foot here since campaigning in June 2016. Even Barack Obama visited Oklahoma.