|AMBER SMITH / DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE|
Beyond the declarations, lies and distortions, threats, cover-ups, rank corruption and endless stream of firings and forced resignations, the Donald Trump presidency has been a harrowing two-year exercise in new lows as the president and his minions repeatedly outdo themselves for awfulness.
To name but a few new lows, there was the Muslim ban, separating the children of immigrants from their parents and then neglecting them, firing the House chaplain because he prayed for the poor, calling a senator a "whore" because she called him out on his hypocrisy, disparaging the widow of a Special Forces soldier ambushed in Niger, starting pointless trade wars that hurt American workers, calling certain not-lily-white nations "shithole countries," and siding with the Saudi despots who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. And so on and so forth.
But on Thursday there was yet another new low as Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly and unambiguously endorsed foreign autocrats over elected American leaders.
It was Strongman Envy at its most despicable.
Pompeo, speaking in Cairo, the site of Barack Obama's historic democracy-embracing address to the Islamic world in 2009, sought to repudiate Obama's message of hope by paying fawning tribute to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's repressive president, in a lie-filled speech. Then about an hour later on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump declared that China's Communist Party bosses negotiated in better faith than the Democratic congressional leaders with whom he is locked in a bitter standoff over his Great Wall of America that has shut down much of the federal government for the last three weeks and is on the verge of becoming the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
"I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honorable than Cryin' Chuck and Nancy. I really do," Trump said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party."
As are Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, as we already well know from Trump's embrace of the leaders of those enemy nations, both of whom have played the president like a cheap violin.
As if Strongman Envy weren't bad enough, it is the keystone of what passes for a Trump foreign policy, a reality driven home by Jim Mattis, the first defense secretary to ever resign in protest, as the administration tilts ever more toward Russia tilt, abandons traditional allies like Britain and France, and embraces despotic Middle Eastern regimes with whom the president and his family are pursuing business deals.
In what has become a recurring pattern, Trump's fickle wand-waving, which has included creating phony crises and wishing away real ones, has been undercut repeatedly.
When Trump promised Kim Jong-un that joint war games with South Korea would be canceled, the Pentagon went ahead with them anyway. When Trump announced the sudden withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria because ISIS had been defeated, his national security adviser, John Bolton, said they were staying to fight ISIS. When Trump sided with Putin when he denied that Russia interferred in the 2016 election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted a slew of Russians for doing just that.
This rolling dysfunction has left America's world standing in tatters, but even the departure of Mattis -- the only thing standing between Trump and chaos -- has failed to move the Vichy Republican congressional sycophancy, leaving newly empowered House Democrats as the only check on Trump.
In the case of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, new chairman Eliot Engel's first order of business will be to create a new subcommittee dedicated to investigating Trump.
Good, but . . .
As Susan Glasser writes at The New Yorker, Trump's opponents have often likened the outrages he has inflicted on the presidency to the old parable of the boiling frog that jumps into a pot and never realizes its own mortal peril as the water slowly heats. Mattis's exit was meant to be the warning signal, but the muted response to his departure may well prove instead that it's already too late.
The frog is boiled.