If you had to pick the weirdest moment of the week, would it be:
The Coast Guard tries to buck up its unpaid civilian employees by suggesting they consider becoming dog walkers or giving music lessons.
In order to dramatize the dangers of life without a Mexico wall, Donald Trump goes to visit a Texas border city that just had its lowest crime rate in 34 years.
The president rebuts critics who say walling off a country is sort of medieval by pointing out that all cars have wheels and “a wheel is older than a wall.”
Feel free to add your own. Whatever you say, I’ll probably believe you. It’s as if we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a Wonderland totally devoid of wonder.
Even if you really, really want Donald Trump to be a total failure hurtling his way back toward civilian life, it’s not comforting to have a president who’s so out to lunch. Just think about that trip to Texas. McAllen, the city Trump chose to demonstrate the terror of wall-free borders, was recently listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best places to retire in the nation. But the president, who was making only his second trip to the border since he took office, assured the public he knew how terrible things are because “I have been there numerous times.”
And that was just one tiny piece of his week! The big news, of course, was our catapult toward an all-time government shutdown record.
Pop quiz: When Trump was invited to comment on the pain of the unpaid government workers, did he say:
A) That it’s better than being killed by an illegal immigrant.
B) That a lot of them think it’s worth missing their salaries to get a wall.
C) That he, too, had to suffer by spending the holidays in the White House.
D) All of the above.
O.K., I know that was too easy.
It does feel as if we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into an alternate universe that is definitely not Wonderland. Just keep telling yourself that it isn’t going to last forever. Soon the presidential primary races will be underway and concerned citizens will have something to talk about besides the Mad Hatter. It looks as if the Democrats are going to have lots of serious policy discussions. And the fact that this week Beto O’Rourke posted videos of himself having his teeth cleaned is just one hint that there will also be plenty of cheering diversion.
Meanwhile, your best options near-term are either to get together with friends and drink heavily, or crawl under your bed and assume a fetal position.
If the floor under the bed looks too dusty, you can always hire a government employee to vacuum.
Just for the sake of perspective, try to imagine how the nation would have responded if Trump’s week had happened under Barack Obama. Obviously Obama didn’t have a yen for border walls. But he was a big proponent of gun regulation — suppose, just for the sake of comparison, he told Congress he wanted billions of dollars to confiscate all the automatic weapons in the country.
Then imagine the opposing party dug in its heels, and Obama announced he was going to veto any spending package that didn’t include his plan. The government shuts down. Then Obama makes a special address to the nation from the Oval Office. “My fellow Americans: Tonight I am speaking to you because there is a growing crisis over guns,” he begins.
No fair pointing out that at least he wouldn’t sound like he was gasping for breath every time he read a sentence off the teleprompter.
By now, in our parallel universe, the nation — which had heard the gun speech several thousand times before — begins to drift away or debate whether his sniffling was from hay fever or nerves. Nobody’s mind gets changed, but the next day congressional leaders try to sit down and work out a compromise that might, say, invest a lot more money to enforce the existing laws. Obama ignores them and demands, “Do all guns go?” When they say no, he slaps the table, walks out the door, and lets the government just … stop. And maybe whines a little bit about how he had to spend Christmas in Washington.
Well, obviously Republicans would be shrieking for Obama’s impeachment. But Trump just goes babbling along. Secure in his conviction that the best way to protect our safety involves stopping the pay for air traffic controllers.
When a reporter asked whether he accepted the old Harry Truman line about how “the buck stops here,” our president responded that “the buck stops with everyone.” He won’t even admit where the buck stops! Do you think that’s because he’s just incapable of accepting responsibility or because he doesn’t know who Harry Truman was?
On the plus side, in the future you can tell your grandchildren that you were there when the government set records for not being open for business. For now, take a federal worker to lunch.