Trump Derangement Syndrome: “The constant fights keep activists, journalists and social media at a boil.”

From a Washington Post Outlook column by political scientist Paul Musgrave headlined “Trump has a secret political weapon: wasting his opponents’ time”:

It’s a struggle between firefighters and a spree arsonist. The firefighters must stamp out every blaze, while the arsonist enjoys pouring accelerant, igniting a spark and sauntering off to start anew with kindling elsewhere. . . .

Over the past several years, Trump and his loyalists have frequently managed to weaken and wear out those they see as enemies by proposing moves that cost the administration little. In these cases, the president often wins either by getting the policy he wants or by making his adversaries — among activists, nonprofits, lawyers, legislators, even business executives — spend disproportionately more effort in response. This phenomenon, as much as the administration’s overt malevolence and incompetence, has helped make the Trump era feel like a never-ending cycle. If it seems as if we are fighting the same battles over and over instead of making progress, that’s because in many cases, we are. . . .

Once again, the administration has hit upon a low-cost way to make opponents spend time and energy. “If time is a political resource of value,” Syracuse University professor Elizabeth Cohen said, “then anything you can do to force people to spend their time on what you want them to do, not the work they would want to do, is effective.”. . .

Trump’s haphazard policy shifts are so frequent that people often suggest there must be other motivations. Supposedly the administration announces wild new ideas out of nowhere — such as changing federal standards for shower heads, cutting capital gains taxes or staging the president’s GOP convention speech at the Gettysburg battlefield — to distract from scandals or simply to troll its adversaries.

But the real-life effects go much further. The force of the government is often employed to grind away at the president’s opponents and reshape society, even when his proposals end up going nowhere.

And those most affected are often those who are the most vulnerable. Sophisticates dismiss the administration’s strategy of raising issues that can’t go anywhere, like the president’s repeated musings about eliminating birthright citizenship, as scare tactics. But that underrates how frightening it is to be threatened by an immensely powerful government. . . .

All this has led to lawsuits, inquiries and mountains of effort expended to counter Trump’s behavior, with the president and his supporters claiming it’s evidence of “Trump derangement syndrome.” The constant high-stakes fights keep activists, journalists and social media at a boil throughout the cycle of discovering, explaining and processing each new administration initiative. In extreme cases, these cycles can make it seem like a final showdown is at hand.

Yet catharsis never arrives. Some new crisis always comes along to cheat us of even the illusion of finality. Inspector general after inspector general after U.S. attorney is fired, each dismissal somehow displacing the earlier outrages rather than compounding them. Impeachment segues into pandemic. Just cataloguing these battles is exhausting, which may explain why the Trump administration feels uniquely draining. . . .

If Trump loses in November, one of the hardest things will be figuring out how to calculate the cost — in time, energy and spirit — of all the disasters that never quite came to pass but still wasted our time. Someday, Americans who didn’t live through it all may wonder what the fuss was about. Why were you all so upset about Trump? There were elections, and he lost — it couldn’t have been that bad.

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