Commentary: Stories, theories and the Trump shrug

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Everyone talks.

Everyone has a theory.

No one knows where this is heading.

No one knows how the ride ends.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

I arrived in the nation’s capital as Congress voted to end an embarrassing federal government shutdown and every participant in the sorry episode scrambled to claim victory.

At the same time, reports that President Donald Trump’s lawyers had established a dummy front to pay a porn star $130,000. The president’s legal team insisted the payment wasn’t for the porn star to stay silent about a sexual tryst she’d had with Trump, but that raised the question of what other service she might provide for that kind of money – given that the paper trail clearly established the cash had changed hands.

Then U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, pulled back his offer to work with the president to build Trump’s much-touted and oft-promised wall along the Mexican border. Caught in a trap of his own making, Trump, who just had demonized all immigrants as murderers and thugs in a scurrilous ad, did an about-face on allowing the “dreamers” to stay and even find a path to citizenship – if Democrats agree to work with him on the wall.

As all of this played out, The New York Times reported that Trump had ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller in June, but backed off when the White House general counsel threatened to resign in protest. The White House and the president’s defenders first asserted he had a perfect right to fire the man investigating him for possibly colluding with Russia during the 2016 election and, now, obstructing justice, but then Trump, sort of, denied he’d done it.

Crisis yielded to controversy, then to chaos, then started the whole cycle over again.

Confusion reigned in the city and country where the president dominates attention without commanding respect.

Everyone with whom I talk in this city where politics and political intrigue form the only industry has a lot to say – off the record, of course. They all have their theories and they deliver them with passion.

But then, at the end of their soliloquies, they offer up what I’ve come to think of as the Trump shrug, a lift of the shoulder and tilt of the head that seems to say:

We’ve never seen anything quite like this, so what do I know?

Lawmakers and staffers in Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, grouse about the president’s vacillations – he vilifies the dreamers one day, embraces them the next – and opine that this creates an opportunity for the Senate and the House to assert the legislative branch’s supremacy. The vacuum created by the absence of steady presidential leadership may even be a blessing in disguise, they say, because it will encourage senators and representatives to work together.

They won’t wait for the president. They’ll craft policy and deliver to it to the White House.

Skeptics, on the other hand, argue that Republicans and Democrats can’t possibly stop their mud wrestling because the enraged bases in both parties demand victories, not solutions, particularly in an election year.

It doesn’t matter which side of the question they’re on.

They deliver their arguments, then offer up the Trump shrug.

We’ve never seen anything quite like this, so what do I know?

The same goes for the president’s multiplying legal troubles.

When I ask where any new development – the alleged pay-off to the porn star, the apparent attempt to shut down the Mueller investigation – I hear a lot.

The president’s partisans say it’s not a big deal. He’s ridden out worse and will ride out all of this.

Trump’s critics, on the other hand, argue that the regularity with which the revelations come and that the blows fall on the White House indicate the net is closing. The president’s options narrow with each turn, they contend, and his survival in the Oval Office grows more and more imperiled.

Both sides say what they have to say, then they offer up the Trump shrug.

We’ve never seen anything quite like this, so what do I know?

So it goes.

Everyone talks.

Everyone has a theory.

No one knows where this is heading.

No one knows how the ride ends.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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