The Impulse Theater Presidency of Donald Trump
Growing up in a Denver suburb, one of my favorite places to go as a young man in the early 90s was the Wynkoop Brewery. Positioned close to Union Station in the lower downtown area of Denver, the Wynkoop was (and still is) a popular multi-level restaurant and bar. Back then, it was owned by John Hickenlooper, Colorado's current governor.
Much of the establishment's prestige came from its knack for attracting celebrities — everyone from entertainers and professional athletes to my personal favorite, popcorn mogul Orville Redenbacher. But for me, the allure of the Wynkoop wasn't its glitzy, crowded upper levels. It was the weekend action that went on in its lower-key basement. The darkened space was sub-leased to an improv comedy group, originally known as The Comedy Sports before later switching Impulse Theater. The shows they put on were always a blast.
Equipped with an arsenal of stage props and costumes, the performances were emceed by a "referee" who would collect audience suggestions in real time, and then string them together into elaborate and absurd scenarios for two competing teams of comedians to act out. The team whose quick-witted improvisation skills earned the loudest laughter and applause (tallied in rounds throughout the night) would be declared, in the end, to be the winner.
The challenge for the audience was to come up with increasingly outlandish ideas for the performers to have to depict on stage. The goal was to force the performers to twist themselves into pretzels (both mentally and physically), and there was always a sense of satisfaction from the crowd in watching the people on stage falter, misstep, and sometimes totally debase themselves...all in the name of amusement.
One has to wonder if President Trump takes similar pleasure in watching the performances of those in his administration, the pro-Trump media, and his loyal fan-base, who wind up making fools of themselves in order to bring life and legs to the fantasy-scenarios he has a habit of tossing out, often on a whim.
I mean, there has to be an element of schadenfreude to it, doesn't there?
Last Saturday for example, the newswires lit up when the president took to Twitter to declare (in no uncertain terms) that President Obama had wire-tapped Trump Towers just prior to the November election. The barrage of tweets reportedly caught Trump's staff completely off guard, and the unsubstantiated claim quickly compelled F.B.I. director, James Comey, to call on the Justice Department to publicly reject the assertion.
The charge is quite serious because it insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, and that Obama exercised illegal authority. And as of now, it still appears as though the only source of Trump's claim was a hyperbolic rant from conservative radio host, Mark Levin, and the reporting of that rant on Breitbart.com. In other words: fake news.
Of course, President Trump isn't about to back off the allegation. He doesn't do that sort of thing. Instead, he's doubling down by calling for an investigation into the matter (as he did with his similarly conspiratorial claim that 3 million people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton). Thus, his obligatory performers have been sentenced to the same, embarrassing task of treating his reckless musings as their new reality.
“Look, I think he’s going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Sunday. The deputy White House press secretary added, "And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.”
On Monday, Sean Spicer addressed the controversy, saying, "There's no question that something happened. The question is: is it surveillance, or wiretapping or whatever?"
In other words, the official White House position on this matter is that something happened. And if that something miraculously ends up being what a random radio-host told his listeners the other day, well...then that would be pretty big.
The pro-Trump cable pundits were a bit more creative.
Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and others suggested on Monday that the existence of the wire-taps that picked up Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, bolstered Trump's claim. What they didn't bother to describe, however, was the significance of Kislyak being on one end of that discussion.
FISA warrants are often used by the F.B.I to eavesdrop on the communications of foreign leaders when they're in the United States. Kislyak, of course, is a foreign leader. And the intelligence that led to that finding was part of a much broader investigation into Russia's interference in our election.
Additionally, a FISA warrant, which would be needed to tap Trump Tower (using probable cause to target a specific individual), would require a judge's authorization, not President Obama's. The president has no such power. What a president does have the power to do, however, is look at that list of FISA warrants to see who, exactly, is on it.
In other words, Trump could pick up the phone — today — to see if he (or anyone closely associated with him) is on that list. The fact that he hasn't (or has, and hasn't divulged his findings) pretty much says it all.
This is worth emphasizing: Trump could clear this whole matter up in 30 minutes, but is choosing not to.
This very point was brought up on Monday's The Five by Dana Perino, and the response of co-hosts (and Trump-enthusiasts) Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle was to dance around the topic for two segments, and present additional eye-rolling scenarios to distract from the point. Unsurprisingly, on social media, Perino was deemed by a barrage of enthusiastic Trump supporters to be totally out of line, and a traitor to the Republican party.
As was the case with claims of thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, and Rafael Cruz being part of the JFK assassination, the indefensible is being defended, and the facts are merely an annoyance.
Is this really what the next four years are going to be like — a perpetual clown show of hapless aides and devotees tasked with cleaning up after whatever thoughtless conspiracy theory our president decides to voice on any given day? And if so, how can Trump not be amused by it — this platform of never having to admit he's wrong, because his people are more than happy to rationalize whatever crazy thing he says.
I suppose that if the joke wasn't on our country, I might be laughing too.