Paul Joseph Watson is an editor and staff writer for Infowars, the website published by archconspiracist Alex Jones. Stories on the site claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and the “deep state” orchestrated August’s racist mayhem in Charlottesville, Va. On Wednesday, when Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos from the British fascist organization Britain First, Watson thought Trump had gone too far. He tweeted: “Yeah, someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics.”
By the end of the day, Trump had been condemned by Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, to which he responded by going after a different Theresa May on Twitter, dragging an obscure woman who at the time had six followers into the limelight. In another tweet, he insinuated that the TV host Joe Scarborough killed an intern in 2001, when he was a congressman. This came after news reports informed us that Trump is still a birther and that he no longer admits that the voice on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape is his own. He seems to be cracking up.
There is a debate over whether Trump is unaware of reality or merely indifferent to it. He might be delusional, or he might simply be asserting the power to blithely override truth, which is the ultimate privilege of a despot. But reports from the administration all suggest an increasingly unhinged and chaotic president. Trump’s aides are trying to spin his behavior, which they clearly expect to get worse, as a sign of heightened confidence. “Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office,” Mike Allen reports on Axios.
This should be seen as an emergency situation. But now that Republicans are about to get their tax cuts, they appear to have decided that it doesn’t matter whether the president is sane. “One senator who listened as the president revived his doubts about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate chuckled on Tuesday as he recalled the conversation,” Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported in The New York Times this week. In Politico, the conservative Rich Lowry made the argument that beneath the tempestuous surface, the Trump presidency is going relatively well, installing right-wing judges and rolling back regulations instituted by Barack Obama. On CNN, Senator Lindsey Graham chided the press for treating Trump like “some kind of kook not fit to be president,” which is some serious gaslighting from a man who previously called Trump “crazy,” a “kook” and “unfit for office.”
The message here is clear: Republicans aren’t going to defy their mad king over anything as mushy and amorphous as democratic norms, rationality or national honor. Indeed, whether Trump is mentally ill or simply unbound, his provocations can serve a purpose for the Republican Party, numbing the country to a tide of less flamboyant outrages. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for example, appears to have flat-out lied when he said that his agency’s comprehensive analysis shows the Republican tax bill paying for itself through economic growth; according to The Times, no such analysis exists. This should be a scandal, but when an administration lies all the time, it makes a lie like this less shocking.
Less than a month ago Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that it was a mistake to infer that what we’ve seen so far of the Trump administration will be “as bad as it gets.” As time goes on, he wrote, “Trump will find people who will empower him, instead of trying to contain him. Some of these will be junior officials who gain experience. Others may be opportunists who see a chance to gain high office by pledging to be more of a loyalist than the current cabinet.”
One such figure, Wright wrote, might be Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who has previously said that cabinet members who won’t unreservedly enact the president’s vision should resign. On Thursday, The Times reported that Cotton, who like the president is a defender of waterboarding, could be on his way to head the C.I.A. He would replace Mike Pompeo, who is himself expected to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
These moves would put the country closer to war with Iran, a course Cotton almost appears to welcome. In an October speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said: “If we are forced to take action, the United States has the ability to totally destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. And if they choose to rebuild it, we could destroy it again, until they get the picture.”
Meanwhile, Trump has put us on a track toward armed conflict with North Korea; on Thursday he resumed tweeting insults about that country’s thin-skinned leader, writing, “The Chinese Envoy, who just returned from North Korea, seems to have had no impact on Little Rocket Man.”
If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t. If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.