An autoimmune disease or condition is one in which the body’s defenses turn on its own tissues, causing malfunction or weakness, and leading to illness or death.
It is tempting to think that in relation to politics, President Trump has one or even is one in person, as the only politician thus far who has been able to ding or defeat him has been none other than himself. No sooner does he say something gracious, do something well, or comport himself well enough that his approval ratings start to inch its way up from its normal low standing, then he arrests its momentum and sends it back down.
Normally, a president has to do something wrong to earn the disapproval that Trump has aroused in the populace — lose a war, cause a recession, or try to pass a very unpopular healthcare reform bill, as did former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — but Trump has done none of these. Most of his policies have not been unsuccessful. Islamic State is gone, Korea is holding, the economy is booming (or was, until he started to talk about tariffs).
The problem is that his personality dissolves the consensus that his tax cuts et al ought to be building around his success. The problem is in Trump himself.
Joseph Epstein explained this a week ago when he quoted his adult son as saying that he approves of everything that Trump has been doing, and nothing at all that Trump says. In this, he’s the reversal of Obama, who was dignified, eloquent, and, when he wished to be, charming, but whose acts always seemed to have dragged down the country. Obama divided us all with identity politics, held back the economy down with too much regulation, and committed the worst mistake ever made by an American president when he pulled all our troops from Iraq.
Neither Obama’s nor Trump’s condition is good for the health of a party: Obama’s presence and eloquence helped re-elect him, but anger at healthcare decimated the Democrats in the midterm elections and reduced his party to its lowest point since before the Depression. Anger at Trump’s tweets and outbursts could usher in a Congress that wants to impeach him — and where things go from there, no one knows.
“Domestic tranquility” is one of the blessings the United States Constitution was written to bring us, but Trump always seems to want to destroy it, creating dissensions where none had existed, and tumult where order should be. His row with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his first and most loyal backers, “is another reason the administration gives off the sense of teetering on the edge of a crisis not because of exogenous events … but because of the ultimate endogenous factor — the president,” as Rich Lowry has written. “We have all gotten used to it, but if you step back, that Trump as president would attack his Cabinet officials via Twitter would have seemed one of the more lurid fears of his critics before he was elected. But here we are.”
Here we are now, but where we may be in a few years, months, or weeks if the chaos continues is a whole other matter. Trump risks scaring or exhausting a sufficient number of people into thinking he in himself is enough of a threat to the orderly process of government that he may eventually warrant removal without having committed a crime.
An impeachable offense is whatever Congress decides that it is, as Gerald Ford once told us. “Disturbing the peace” might fit the bill.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."