In “Fire and Fury”, Michael Wolff’s gossipy tale of the White House, the leader of the free world is portrayed as a monstrously selfish toddler-emperor seen by his own staff as unfit for office. America is caught up in a debate about the president’s sanity. Seemingly unable to contain himself, Mr Trump fans the flames by taking to Twitter to crow about his “very stable genius”
In office Mr Trump’s legislative accomplishments have been modest, and mixed. A tax reform that cut rates and simplified some of the rules was also regressive and unfunded. His antipathy to regulation has invigorated animal spirits, but at an unknown cost to the environment and human health. His proposed withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the fledgling Trans-Pacific Partnership was, in The Economist magazines’ view, foolish, but hardly beyond the pale of Republican thinking.
The danger of the Trump character obsession is that it distracts from deeper changes in America’s system of government. The bureaucracy is so understaffed that it is relying on industry hacks to draft policy. They have shaped deregulation and written clauses into the tax bill that pass costs from shareholders to society. Because Senate Republicans confirmed so few judges in Mr Obama’s last two years, Mr Trump is moving the judiciary dramatically to the right (see article). And non-stop outrage also drowns out Washington’s problem: the power of the swamp and its disconnection from ordinary voters.
Mr Trump has been a poor president in his first year. In his second he may cause America grave damage. But the presidential telenovela is a diversion. He and his administration need to be held properly to account for what they actually do.