To the disappointment of goodness knows how many people who would have been happy to see tanks rolling down the streets of Minneapolis and bottle-tossing demonstrators lying shot in the streets a week ago, the festival of bloodshed never begins. This is not the forbearance of a Louis XVI. It is the lunatic middle course of a man unwilling to commit himself either to the conciliatory measures allegedly being urged by his son-in-law Jared Kushner or to the reactionary violence that appeals to his aesthetic instincts.

This pattern is not new. For Trump the Affordable Care Act was the doom of the republic until the moment it became clear that the GOP did not have enough votes in the Senate to repeal it. Our random interventions in the Middle East, which Trump spent so much of his 2016 presidential campaign decrying, were disastrous until various advisers convinced him of the necessity of staying the course in Afghanistan, bombing Syria, and assassinating an Iranian general. Our trade relations with China were dangerously one-sided and in need of sweeping reform until it became clear that Wall Street did not agree. Immigration was holding down American wages, but it must be allowed to do so in order to ensure that the agriculture lobby has access to poorly remunerated guest workers. The special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller was nothing short of treasonous, but not worth actually shutting down unilaterally after Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general who was once his loyal courtier, refused to do it on his behalf. More recently, coronavirus was dangerous enough to shut down travel to and from China, but not without making so many exceptions as to render the relevant order useless; the cure, we were told, must not be allowed to become worse than the disease, but the severity of the latter was something about which Trump was unwilling to make up his mind, while the scope of the former was left almost entirely to the nation’s governors; a few weeks ago the imminent reopening of Georgia was synonymous with the cause of liberty itself until the moment it became the occasion for a bizarre public scolding. Such examples could be multiplied indefinitely. Inconstancy is the only constant in this administration.