Donald Trump is the WWE president, in more ways than one. He brings the same devotion to crass spectacle for the sake of ratings as World Wrestling Entertainment, a conglomerate created by Vince and Linda McMahon, his friends and supporters; he’s even participated in their scripted wrestling matches. In politics, he displays just as much flair for televised takedowns of his opponents as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, or Randy “Macho Man” Savage. In fact, many of his insults — “Little Marco” Rubio, “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz — would seem more appropriate coming from an over-muscled bruiser in spangled tights than from the president of the United States.
But WWE can also stand for “worst week ever,” and that has become even more of a leitmotif for his administration. Every week Trump does something offensive and inexplicable that earns the WWE label, and then the next week he tops it. Last week was a case in point. This was the week when:
1) Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea, and bragged that the United States is “locked and loaded” for combat. Wonder what asinine alliteration he will come out with next? Such invective might be fine in a pro wrestling ring; it’s a more serious matter when directed against a state with nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and 500 of its 12,000 artillery tubes zeroed in on Seoul. We can only hope that Kim Jong Un knows to take Trump “seriously but not literally,” and that he pays attention to the attempts of Trump’s subordinates to assure the world that conflict with North Korea is not actually “imminent.”
2) Apparently enjoying threatening other countries, Trump extended the threat to Venezuela. “A military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue,” he said Friday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey while U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, standing next to him, appeared to do a double-take. No one, literally no one, has called for U.S. military intervention. The threat was immediately denounced by America’s closest allies in Latin America, who are all too aware that it plays into the hands of Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, who is intent on convincing his people that he will protect them from the Yanqui imperialists. Vice President Pence, while on a tour of the region, had to perform cleanup duty by assuring everyone he met that, the words of the president notwithstanding, the United States isn’t actually preparing to invade Venezuela.
3) Trump also attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to pass health care legislation, which he claimed should have been “very easy to handle.” He urged McConnell to call the Senate back into session to take one more attempt at health care reform, even as Trump himself vacations in New Jersey. In reality, of course, much of the failure to pass a health care law is due to Trump’s own inability to be an effective lobbyist on an issue he does not begin to understand or care about, save to notch a political “win.” Trump’s attack caused Republican senators to rally around their leader, and further undercut the president’s influence with his own caucus.
4) While engaging in swaggering bellicosity against Mitch McConnell, Kim Jong Un, and Nicolás Maduro, Trump was, as usual, fawning in his attitude toward Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin. On July 30, Putin demanded that the U.S. mission in Russia downsize by 755 personnel. Trump waited ten days before commenting on this affront, and when he did so it was, incredibly, to praise rather than criticize Putin’s actions. “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters. “And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”
This is like Franklin Delano Roosevelt thanking Hideki Tojo for saving the U.S. money by sinking much of the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Trump’s spokesman claimed he was being sarcastic, but, if so, his message was lost on America’s diplomats who were dismayed to see the president’s failure to defend their colleagues who are being expelled from Russia.
All of these outrages were overshadowed on Sunday by Trump’s failure to condemn by name the white supremacists who provoked a confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia that left three people dead and many others injured. Trump never fails to condemn terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims; he even condemned an imaginary attack in Sweden. Yet he refused to label as terrorism the Islamic State-style car attack carried out by white supremacist James Alex Fields, who drove his Dodge Challenger straight into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, leaving carnage in his wake. Virtually every Republican politician in the country denounced the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and white-supremacists in general, but not Trump: He condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” as if Black Lives Matter protesters who want stop police mistreatment of African-Americans are morally equivalent to neo-Nazis who want to impose apartheid in the United States.
Trump’s failure to call out the far right, at least until a begrudging and scripted statement on Monday, is all the more glaring given his gleeful, intemperate attacks on so many others: not only McConnell, Kim Jong Un, and Maduro, but also — to select a few names at random — Jeff Sessions, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mika Brzezinski, Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly, the “AmazonWashingtonPost,” and the “failing New York Times.” He even launched a scathing attack Monday on an African-American CEO who quit a White House advisory board in protest against his inadequate, indeed indefensible, reaction to the assault on American values in Charlottesville. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,” Trump tweeted in his usual hyperbolic style, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Note that it took Trump 54 minutes to attack Frazier and two days to attack white supremacists. The only people the president is reluctant to criticize, it seems, are Vladimir Putin and the alt-right.
In response to the president’s moral failure, many commentators chorused: WWE! Worst week ever! And that’s true. But let’s be honest: Trump hasn’t had a single good week since he’s become president. He hasn’t even had many good days. You can count them on one hand: The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (Jan. 31). The State of the Union-style speech to Congress (Feb. 28). The missile attack on a Syrian airfield (April 6). Those are the highlights of a presidency that has already lasted more than six months: not even one a month.
The lowlights are too numerous to list. A few that stand out: the failure to divest his business holdings or place them in a blind trust; the apocalyptic inauguration speech; the lies about his crowd size, delivered in front of the CIA Memorial Wall; the disastrous rollout of the travel ban; the decision to give senior White House posts to alt-right extremists such as Steve Bannon; the hostile phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia; the hiring and then quick firing of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn; the reluctance to endorse NATO; the toadying to Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, and other authoritarians; the pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accords; the failure to pass any major legislation; the creation of a commission to probe nonexistent voter fraud; the firing of FBI Director James Comey in an attempt to end the probe of collusion between his campaign and Russia; the refusal to accept the intelligence community finding that Russia intervened in the U.S. election; the passive-aggressive attacks on his own attorney general; the attempt to cover up a meeting between his son and Russian representatives; the utterly inappropriate Boy Scouts speech; the encouragement of police brutality. Little wonder that Trump’s approval ratings are at record lows; they’d be lower still if the stock market, which soared during Obama’s presidency, hadn’t continued going up.
Many presidents have grown in office. Trump is shrinking before our eyes, and that’s saying something since he was already a moral and intellectual pygmy when he took the oath of office. He’s on the fast track from WWE to WPE: Worst presidency ever.