I get it; he was having a bad day. But when you’re president, all days are bad days–people are constantly questioning your competence, your intelligence, your decency, your good will, your patriotism. You get a certain amount of deference (Marines saluting you, people calling you Mr. President), but nowhere near the deference that a billionaire or a TV star commands. Puny congressmen, small-town newspapermen, even nobody authors on Facebook, are not just allowed to push back but are expected to.
Trump is an “I alone” kind of guy, and for that he would need to destroy the institutions of the US government. As Masha Gessen put it in the New York Review last week (was it really just a week ago?), that’s not because they would prove an obstacle to any one thing that he wants to do (his attention span is short) “but because they are an obstacle to the way he wants to do them. A fascist leader needs mobilization. The slow and deliberative passage of even the most heinous legislation is unlikely to supply that. Wars do, and there will be wars. These wars will occur both abroad and at home.”
Trump yelling at Gold Star mothers and babies and kicking dogs (he hasn’t done that yet, but if things keep going this way he will) is comical. Trump pulling the levers of power–and empowering a whole army of Lewandowskis in appointive positions–is something else entirely.
It’s not that his ideas and attitudes are unprecedented–they have been simmering just below the surface of our politics since we have been a country. Neither his racism, his isolationism, his anti-intellectualism, his authoritarianism or his conspiracism are new. But Trump has made them his brand proposition, and he stands a good chance of putting all of them to the test. We are getting into Civil War territory, and he is no Lincoln.