Trump so far is more farce than tragedy

And what’s true with Russia is true on other fronts. A vast gulf between the things Trump says he wants — which are, indeed, often authoritarian — and the things that actually happen is the essential characteristic of his presidency’s first year.

He promised to bring back waterboarding and worse; he was easily talked out of it. He promised a Muslim ban; a much more modest travel ban is now tied up in the courts. He launched a voter fraud commission, which his critics regarded as a step toward massive vote suppression; it was ineffective and broke up. He keeps threatening to change the libel laws; they aren’t changing, and the anti-Trump press is thriving. NATO and Nafta are both still there; the trade war with China has been postponed; we are not at war with Iran or (yes, I know, yet) with North Korea; the scope of the Russia investigation has only widened since Trump’s hamfisted intervention.

Before Trump took office, it was reasonable to worry that he would fill high offices with cronies, but the real cranks have rarely lasted and many appointments have been reasonable and conventional and even boring. The president is filling the courts with Federalist Society conservatives, not his sister or Ivanka or Newt Gingrich, and his cabinet looks a lot like a generic Republican administration, whose efforts liberals understandably oppose and sometimes deplore, but which are not remotely like the workings of a fascist cabal circa 1935.