Donald Trump is “in a position right now where he’s much more isolated than he realizes,” Newt Gingrich informed Fox News on Friday. Newt is never right, and yet there, in his comment, was the toll of truth—since he took office in January, Trump’s presidency has amounted to a sustained and methodical masterpiece of pushing people away. Which of his original constituencies remain loyal to him? Last week, sensing insurrection, he dissolved two separate councils of CEOs (exeunt rich businesspeople) and begged off of attending the Kennedy Center Honors concert (exeunt any celebrities who hadn’t already). He guillotined Establishment mainstays Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, then turned around and ejected Steve Bannon, the mouthpiece for the one demographic that hasn’t grown visibly disillusioned with Trump after his Charlottesville disaster: white nationalists. Beyond American borders, foreign heads of states are issuing statements chastising the president, who, in fairness, has been insulting them for months. His potential allies in the House and Senate will not come to his defense. No man is an island, but Trump is drawing perilously close.
“He believes his power is total, and that it will exist even if everyone around him ceases to,” wrote Olivia Nuzzi in New York, of the still point in chief. But the turning world around Trump is not vanishing—it’s getting louder. And the POTUS refuses to accommodate its demands: “By dint of his pigheadedness, or prejudice, or both,” observed John Cassidy in the New Yorker, “he has moved onto political ground that makes it virtually impossible for other people in influential positions … to stand with him.”
It seems clear that Trump has entered the Lear-howling-at-the-storm phase of his presidency. His rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, during which he subjected crowds to a 77-minute stream-of-consciousness rant on his own victimization at the hands of the media and the Charlottesville counterprotesters, revealed him at his unhinged worst. POTUS, who appeared obsessed with capturing the country’s sympathy in the wake of an unarmed woman’s murder, has reverted to pure id. He keeps peeling away layers in a frenzy of divestment, perversely exposing his flesh to the elements. Goodbye Dubke, goodbye Mooch. Goodbye Katie Walsh and Michael Flynn and K.T. McFarland. Trump may love to fire people, but his most recent dismissals are slick with desperation, as if he could save the gangrenous White House by lopping off the correct limb, as if he himself weren’t the source of the rot.
But the president contaminates all he touches. His witless tweets and rank bigotry cheapen the office he inhabits, and his culpability is contagious. He imagined that purging his former FBI director would halt the Russia investigation, even though the germ of the problem—his own shady family—remained. He dreamed that a new chief of staff could tame his dysfunctional nest of West Wingers, but it was his own poor temperament and leadership that made them feral in the first place. When Trump has shoved away all of the stakeholders in his presidency—the alt-right and the traditional wing of the GOP, the generals and the billionaires—what will be left is a naked man profoundly unequal to the history swirling around him.
Two days ago, a man lacking the capacity for awe stood on the balcony of the White House to observe a solar eclipse. The aides and staffers around him were wearing glasses, but POTUS could not conceive of radiance stronger than his own. As someone shouted “Don’t look!”, he pitted his sad narcissism against the oratorio of nature. “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks,” you could envision him muttering. Trump had no place to hide. He looked up and challenged the sky like the impotent king he was.