One month into the Donald Trump regime, the big question is not whether it will last, but how long it will last. Trump harrumphed last week at what had to have been the most bizarre press conference in White House history that his administration "is running like a well-oiled machine." As one pundit remarked, that is a crash-test machine -- and the wheels already have come off.
Let's be very clear about a couple of things: Trump's base -- the 62 million or so people who voted for him -- remain faithful as ostensibly does the Republican-controlled Congress, which wants him to sign its agenda into law before it can bother with the question of whether he is doing the party more harm than good, never mind the country. And so we are hurtling ahead at breakneck speed into The Middle, that indeterminate period in the Age of Trump that is the muck and mire between The Beginning and The End.
Whether The Middle lasts weeks, months or even years depends upon several things, all of which are interrelated. One or more of those things -- or perhaps a really big surprise coming out of proverbial left field -- could be catalysts for Trump's downfall:
* His failure to understand the so-called Deep State cripples his administration.
This is the faceless permanent government that has accumulated power as presidents and parties in the majority come and go. The Deep State is dominated but not limited to the CIA, FBI and NSA, and Trump has quickly maneuvered himself into the position where these spy agencies are ignoring his diktats as we saw with the Michael Flynn debacle.
* His demands for absolute loyalty undermine him.
Trump's difficulty in filling top posts, and many dozens of them remain vacant, is a result of an authoritarian-esque rule that no individual, no matter how qualified they may be, can be considered for a job when it is found they have made remarks critical of him in the past. This litmus test makes it increasingly difficult to make badly needed hires as the pool of candidates shrinks.
* His Russian connections and hidden agenda finally demand decisive action.
This would take the form of an independent special counsel investigating the Kremlin's assault on American democracy, as openly abetted by Trump and his surrogates, as well as continuing back channel initiatives by Trump business associates to assist in carrying out an agenda in sync with Vladimir Putin to upend the U.S.-led western alliance.
* Giving senior campaign staff White House jobs has major repercussions.
One of the president's underlying problems is that he has never stopped campaigning and has surrounded himself with a sycophancy of amateurs and hacks from his campaign, some with outlandish and dangerous views. None have any government experience and have quickly divided themselves into warring (and leaking) factions.
* Congress, initially reluctant to move against the president, eventually does.
Beyond the caucus of reliable cultists are congressional Republicans who privately loath Trump and for whom continuing to duck responsibility -- as they learn that running the country, as oppose to merely tying a president's hands as they did with Barack Obama, is beyond their means -- will cause irreparable cracks in the party leadership.
* The alt-left resistance becomes a powerful grassroots movement.
The immense post-inauguration protests are insinuating themselves into many smaller groups coalescing around the repeal of Obamacare and other draconian aspects of Trump's agenda. These groups are showing up in force at town hall meetings, emboldening more and more people to become involved. Comparisons to the early days of the Tea Party are valid.
* A crisis occurs that lays bare his incapacity as commander in chief.
The January 29 commando raid in Yemen, Trump's initial foray into covert counterterrorism operations, was carried out despite Pentagon concerns that there was insufficient intelligence, ground support and backup. The consequence was a series of mishaps resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL, a child and several other civilians.
* His incessant lying eventually will catch up to him.
Trump believes that molding the truth to fit his needs is a no-lose proposition, witness the incredible number of lies and distortions he packed into a campaign-like Florida rally over the weekend, including false claims that the crime rate is way up, refugees entering the U.S. are not screened, and there had been a major terror attack in Sweden.
* Finally, his manifold symptoms of instability become too large to ignore.
A growing chorus of mental health experts are pointing to Trump's overarching grandiosity, hypersensitivity to criticism, unrequited craving for mainstream acceptance, rudeness, intolerance leading to rage reactions and narcissistic meltdowns, outbursts of tweeting and, most troubling of all, inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
Trump's most effective weapon in prolonging the muck and mire of The Middle is ignorance. Dismissing his demagoguery is a close second. As I wrote last August 3 after he had clinched the nomination but the election was Hillary Clinton's to lose (ha!):
Say what you will about Donald Trump. I've said plenty and will have plenty more to say, but he is sorely testing my ability to be outraged over and over and over again over his outrages. Call it outrage fatigue, the bastard cousin of compassion fatigue, which is what happens when you've seen too many news clips of Biafran babies with swollen bellies or the bodies of Syrian refugees washed up on Mediterranean beaches.
We cannot let that happen.
There is an unmistakable edge of desperation -- even panic -- to much of what Trump and his handlers say and do. As repeatedly occurred during the campaign, there already have been intentional leaks to the effect that his administration is rebooting, which is a joke, but at least is an acknowledgement that this Keystone Kops of a White House is in deep trouble after a mere four weeks and its juggling act of surreality simply is not sustainable.
Although the president, wrapped ever tighter in his cocoon of crazy, may understand in the abstract that being the leader of the free world requires discipline, hard work, patience and an ability to compromise, he utterly lacks these four essential qualities. And we know well that of all of his characteristics, his inability to learn, to grow and to change . . . well, they trump everything.