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Trump's fire alarm presidency

When the fire alarm went off in my gym the other morning, barely anyone paid attention. Even though the siren was lou...

Posted: Apr 1, 2018 4:53 AM
Updated: Apr 1, 2018 4:53 AM

When the fire alarm went off in my gym the other morning, barely anyone paid attention. Even though the siren was loud and alarm lights were noticeably flashing, most people kept on working out. With their Air Buds and ear buds blasting music and eyes glued to the morning news shows, they continued pumping iron, running on the treadmill, and staying in the plank position so that the core would be as tight as possible.

It wasn't until some of the staff came scrambling through the gym floor yelling at people to leave the building quickly that it became evident that the smoke was very real. Fortunately, everyone left the building, though some still in shorts and swimsuits, without injury.

It struck me as I walked out of the facility that many of us are equally immune to the political fire alarms that go off in Washington almost every day. From the first day of the Trump presidency, the shocking headlines and unsettling news have been inundating us.

We have seen and heard President Donald Trump take so many actions that unsettle the stability of our democracy that we are reaching a point where this is simply becoming the new normal. The danger is that when an alarm goes off that we really can't afford to ignore, we won't take it seriously. Too many people will say that it's just Trump being Trump. Everything will be ok -- until it is not.

The normalization of presidential instability has been stunning. In a week that saw the unprecedented shakeup of high level executive branch officials continue, and a "60 Minutes" interview with a porn star who claims the President's men threatened her to be silent about their alleged affair, many experts noted how quiet the week had been because Trump didn't tweet too much.

Trump has pummeled our sense of convention to the point where it might be impossible to return to where we were even in the days when President Barack Obama finished his term -- and politics was already pretty crazy by 2016.

President Trump has shattered almost all norms of behavior, randomly attacking institutions that are vital to our democracy: His Twitter-based communications strategy has the potential to create dangerous situations. Unedited and provocative statements from the President can have huge ramifications. So far, the nation has been lucky, even though Trump has taken an ad hoc approach to leadership that leaves the government handling almost every issue with no clear plan.

Sometimes improvisation can result in good things, but other times it is a recipe for disaster. It is the chaos theory of governance. Throw things out in the wind, react and respond, and hope for the best.

Other than with his systematic and focused drive to vitiate the government's regulation of business, Trump has shown very little ability to manage the reins of government -- and that raises vital questions about how he would handle a major crisis. The rotating cabinet, most of which has been filled by individuals with little government experience to begin with, makes the risk even greater, given the President's thin knowledge of policy.

Some of the fire alarm problem stems from the way in which the chaos has been covered. Often there is too much drama in the headlines, too many teasers from reporters who suggest that whatever information comes their way is the "bombshell" that will change everything. A good look at political history shows that those "game change" moments are far and few between.

When we have too many big breaking news stories, it is harder to see when the really significant news happens. Reporters and producers, often doing hard work trying to make sure that the facts are not clouded over by the administration's often deceptive rhetoric, sometimes have gone too far in dramatizing every moment in the Trump presidency to the point that most viewers and readers can't really tell whether they should be worried.

President Trump might be thinking that Americans will become so worn down by the daily revelations in the Russia investigation that they won't be paying attention anymore if Robert Mueller actually produces a damning report.

But there are many big areas of policy where it is easy to imagine that a real fire will ignite in the near future. The situation with North Korea remains extraordinarily tense and the recent foray into diplomatic discussions can quickly go off the rails and turn into a provocative military attack.

Computer hackers, some allied with governments like Russia, have been conducting a series of high level attacks -- on targets ranging from our electoral system to our city governments -- that could paralyze government institutions. Terrorist attacks by assailants -- from people motivated by ISIS to native born Americans -- are a daily threat that can continue and easily get worse. And there are still terrorist networks who pose very real threats to the nation.

The fluctuations in the stock market should be a reminder that at any moment the kind of crash that occurred in 2008 could happen again. A new documentary, "The China Hustle," documents the shaky investments that are still very much part of our markets. It is easy to see how President Trump's initial moves to impose tariffs could deteriorate into a full-scale trade war that leaves communities reeling. We have already seen how the administration failed to handle a number of difficult moments, including the recovery from the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico or the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Given the challenges that the nation faces, we need a President who can handle difficult situations effectively and administration officials who will not make things worse. But in 2018, we are not in a place where we can have confidence in this outcome.

Many of the craziest parts of this presidency are now just fodder for late night jokes, but not serious political conversation -- or, more importantly, political action. There seems to be very little movement in Congress to do anything about the risky actions we have seen from the President and the damaging changes he is making to the presidency. Much of the nation is no longer able to evaluate how serious the governance problem really is.

In season two of the Trump presidency, many of us are no longer paying attention to the alarms.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 485655

Reported Deaths: 6558
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1007641586
Ramsey43106801
Dakota36297390
Anoka33293385
Washington22078256
Stearns18734201
St. Louis14805262
Scott13290107
Wright12526115
Olmsted1178988
Sherburne872872
Carver772640
Clay691587
Rice670491
Blue Earth594735
Kandiyohi579574
Crow Wing520681
Chisago499045
Otter Tail482170
Benton446490
Winona418349
Mower404731
Douglas392668
Nobles387047
Goodhue385768
Polk343162
McLeod339349
Beltrami337951
Morrison324547
Itasca313046
Lyon313044
Becker311342
Isanti306154
Steele300411
Carlton300149
Pine282016
Freeborn280723
Nicollet258641
Todd248030
Brown245037
Le Sueur235320
Mille Lacs227447
Cass220024
Waseca208717
Meeker207434
Martin189528
Wabasha18653
Roseau180217
Hubbard160640
Houston157314
Dodge15224
Renville149640
Redwood147027
Fillmore13728
Chippewa136335
Cottonwood134820
Pennington134416
Wadena130920
Faribault123017
Aitkin118833
Sibley117310
Watonwan11738
Rock115714
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9448
Jackson93510
Swift87918
Pope8045
Marshall77815
Stevens7418
Lake74018
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68416
Wilkin67110
Koochiching61811
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5062
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned46768
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3055
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 362827

Reported Deaths: 5440
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58260551
Linn20670313
Scott18318210
Black Hawk16258292
Woodbury14979211
Johnson1384874
Dubuque13562194
Dallas1138690
Pottawattamie10791143
Story1024945
Warren556674
Clinton543784
Cerro Gordo533782
Webster519587
Marshall497272
Sioux494869
Buena Vista474537
Des Moines458861
Muscatine452291
Wapello4345108
Jasper417766
Plymouth395378
Lee375452
Marion359169
Jones294154
Henry293337
Carroll286249
Bremer280854
Crawford275135
Boone259730
Washington254347
Benton253854
Mahaska224746
Jackson221638
Dickinson217840
Tama213765
Kossuth208555
Clay193625
Hamilton192142
Delaware189140
Winneshiek189127
Buchanan185729
Fayette185235
Page183319
Hardin181439
Wright179931
Harrison179469
Cedar178523
Clayton168154
Butler167231
Mills163020
Floyd162741
Cherokee154836
Madison154718
Poweshiek154330
Hancock147130
Allamakee146747
Lyon145941
Iowa145023
Appanoose139247
Grundy139230
Jefferson138734
Winnebago138631
Cass134751
Calhoun133811
Mitchell130940
Louisa128241
Union126631
Chickasaw125215
Sac124618
Emmet121740
Shelby121733
Franklin118319
Humboldt117925
Guthrie116628
Palo Alto105221
Montgomery104136
Howard102921
Clarke100420
Unassigned9900
Keokuk98229
Monroe93328
Adair92128
Ida91432
Pocahontas85419
Davis83123
Monona81627
Greene77510
Lucas74021
Osceola70615
Worth6997
Taylor66612
Fremont5909
Decatur5829
Van Buren56118
Ringgold52320
Wayne48921
Audubon4889
Adams3274
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