And a huge sigh of relief went up in the land. The mad king could stay on script long enough to fake normality.
The truculent sovereign could be yanked away, for a blessed hour, from Twitter to a teleprompter. He could emerge from his dystopian, carnivorous man cave, guarded by the fanged two-headed Stephenbeast of Bannon and Miller, and condemn the hate he spent so long stirring up.
Liberal pundits were nonplussed by the shock of the president using his indoor voice, as he traded the cudgel of “American carnage” for “the torch of truth, liberty and justice” in his maiden speech to Congress. For a moment, at least, the shrieking chorus dimmed, the demands that Donald Trump be put in a straitjacket and that the 25th Amendment be invoked quieted down.
Trump was at long last conforming and following the norms of Washington. And that always pleases Washington.
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He didn’t let the usual barrage of petty insults fly or indulge in his loony lovey-dovey talk about the lethal Vladimir Putin.
Mike Pence and Paul Ryan beamed behind the president, like the proud parents of a hockey goon who gets through the game without a trip to the penalty box.
The emperor of chaos was able to muster 60 minutes 14 seconds of non-embarrassing behavior before we were all ensnared once more in the bizarre and venal Russian subplot of the Trump presidency and another Twitter onslaught against Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi for having met with Russians.
What is the moral of this? That if you talk more like a Washington insider than a barbarian at the gate, you’re more likely to persuade people to raise the gate and let you do whatever you want, no matter how alarming or perfidious.
Ordinarily, Trump enjoys plots, gossip and subterranean deals. But now he is frustrated by his rocky debut and increasingly paranoid about what he sees as the Vast Deep-State Conspiracy. When he froths about crowd size like a bus-and-truck “Caine Mutiny,” when he compares the intelligence community to Nazi Germany and labels the press “the enemy of the American people,” when he insists that black is white and night is day and makes up whoppers about voter fraud, the body politic’s defenses go up on alert against the Trump virus.
But when he behaves more normally, the guard comes down. It’s an optical delusion. People get terrified by Crazy Trump. But really, that makes it easier to fight back, because we see the crazy right out there on Twitter.
People were relieved at Calm Trump. But really, that’s more potentially dangerous because if he learns how to behave in a more measured, charming way on the surface, he can put a disarming face on harsh policies or duplicitous practices.
If he seems less like a mad man aiming to rip everything apart, he can more easily rip everything apart.
As W. ambled back on to the public stage recently, promoting his new book of paintings and stories, “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors,” we had a vivid illustration of how far likability can get you.
When Jimmy Kimmel joked with W. last week, the audience reacted warmly. Compared to Trump, it was like W. was the soul of decency and self-deprecation, on his way to Mount Rushmore.
So does it really matter that his policies helped contribute to the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history?
Asked by Willie Geist on “Sunday Today” about his decision to send soldiers into Iraq and Afghanistan, W. replied lamely: “I don’t regret sending soldiers into battle. I regret they got hurt.”
Chatting about the Oscar flub, Kimmel noted that W. had also been “involved in many notable faux pas,” as W. laughed.
“Mission accomplished,” W. replied, smirking.
It’s still too soon to laugh about “Mission Accomplished,” especially when peddling anguished portraits of wounded veterans. In fact, it will always be too soon to laugh about “Mission Accomplished.”