Trump has turned out to be the Norma Desmond of authoritarians, a senescent has-been whose delusions are propped up by obsequious retainers. From his fantasy world in the White House, he barks dictatorial and often illegal orders, floats conspiracy theories, tweets insults and lies unceasingly. But much of the time he’s not fully in charge. He has the instincts of a fascist but lacks both the discipline and the loyal lieutenants he’d need to create true autocracy.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the country isn’t coming undone. Trump’s bumbling incoherence, coupled with his declining political fortunes since the midterms, makes him seem less frightening than he once did. But, two years in, the jaded weariness many of us have developed might obscure how bad things are. We’re living through an unprecedented breakdown in America’s ability to function like a normal country.
The shutdown throws our crisis into high relief. For the first two years, Trump destroyed American norms, standards and conventions. Now he’s cavalierly destroying American lives.