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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: 289303

Reported Deaths: 3434
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin616511100
Ramsey25903487
Anoka20522218
Dakota20096183
Washington13066109
Stearns1291098
St. Louis7935101
Scott782754
Wright702436
Olmsted626134
Sherburne538640
Clay463856
Carver432213
Blue Earth387112
Rice386033
Kandiyohi373819
Crow Wing334631
Nobles298729
Chisago29358
Otter Tail282818
Benton278642
Winona258128
Mower241323
Douglas237631
Polk234423
Morrison219524
Lyon201911
McLeod195610
Beltrami194615
Becker187512
Goodhue185727
Steele17826
Itasca176124
Isanti174316
Todd171612
Carlton165710
Nicollet150823
Freeborn14465
Mille Lacs141630
Le Sueur138110
Waseca134011
Cass12849
Brown125011
Pine12458
Meeker11308
Roseau10503
Hubbard103822
Martin101920
Wabasha9611
Redwood83718
Dodge8060
Chippewa8057
Watonwan7984
Cottonwood7682
Renville75119
Sibley7414
Wadena7376
Aitkin69826
Rock6829
Pipestone67818
Houston6422
Fillmore6320
Yellow Medicine59311
Pennington5856
Kanabec54912
Murray5493
Swift5366
Faribault5081
Pope4990
Stevens4643
Clearwater4536
Marshall4438
Jackson4361
Unassigned38759
Lake3816
Koochiching3535
Wilkin3465
Lac qui Parle3383
Norman3227
Lincoln3171
Big Stone2841
Mahnomen2704
Grant2516
Red Lake2033
Kittson1917
Traverse1360
Lake of the Woods931
Cook600

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 222064

Reported Deaths: 2319
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33019331
Linn13877164
Scott1085683
Black Hawk10730134
Woodbury10159121
Johnson935536
Dubuque907691
Story669721
Dallas624657
Pottawattamie612469
Sioux364625
Webster353033
Marshall343545
Cerro Gordo342644
Clinton319839
Buena Vista300014
Des Moines281719
Muscatine280968
Warren274011
Plymouth268941
Wapello251171
Jones227913
Jasper212443
Marion201719
Lee197916
Carroll195422
Bremer191312
Henry18037
Crawford173015
Benton166217
Tama152240
Jackson142113
Delaware140221
Washington137414
Dickinson134210
Boone134011
Mahaska125327
Wright12156
Buchanan115010
Clay11314
Hardin113010
Page11134
Hamilton10809
Clayton10715
Harrison106129
Cedar104913
Calhoun10487
Kossuth10236
Floyd102216
Mills10177
Fayette10159
Lyon10058
Poweshiek97913
Butler9746
Winneshiek95412
Iowa92312
Winnebago90223
Hancock8497
Louisa83916
Grundy83811
Chickasaw8354
Sac8297
Cherokee8134
Cass79721
Appanoose77310
Mitchell7704
Allamakee76811
Union7546
Humboldt7525
Shelby75010
Emmet74724
Guthrie73715
Franklin72921
Jefferson6852
Madison6734
Palo Alto6454
Unassigned6320
Keokuk5737
Pocahontas5532
Howard5419
Greene5160
Osceola5131
Clarke4774
Ida46813
Taylor4563
Davis4508
Montgomery44911
Monroe43712
Adair4298
Monona4212
Fremont3543
Van Buren3525
Worth3520
Lucas3216
Decatur3150
Wayne2957
Audubon2942
Ringgold2022
Adams1642
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