On Tuesday evening, the American public reached a consensus, however small and transient, on the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Over 75% of the 40 million Americans who watched his inaugural State of the Union address approved of its overall message. The teleprompter-guided speech hit policy points, stroked the American mythos and showcased a rare peacemaker tone for the typically pugilistic Commander-in-Chief.
It didn’t take long, however, for this optimism to vanish. By dawn, Capitol Hill had once again plunged into bitter in-fighting over the impending release of a memo originating from House Republicans alleging severe abuses of power by America’s leading law enforcement agency.
These are strange days in Washington — gnawed away at by conspiratorial rot, deep partisanship and endless conflicting information.
Trump’s State of the Union address, his most dignified and stately performance since ascending to the presidency, was a fleeting reprieve from a distrustful new reality — a “new American normal” — which has been methodically ushered in by the president himself.
Donald Trump has always feasted on conspiracy theories. His political beginnings were spent floating the fringe accusation that Barack Obama was a Kenyan imposter named Barry Soetoro. Later, his sprawling Twitter account frequently questioned the death of Antonin Scalia, whether Obama was a secret Muslim and whether Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Now, holding America’s reins, people are told that saboteurs cling to shadows and homegrown dissidents are sabotaging “American greatness.” Without specifics, Americans are exposed to sinister plots and cabals and secret societies. They are supposed to believe that pillars of the justice and legal system, along with the national intelligence community, are infested with partisan hacks. It is no longer just eccentric tweeting, people are publicly told by the president that “Deep State actors,” are undermining American interests and weakening the nation through an entrenched and secretive bureaucracy located at the highest levels of government.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” the line goes, spoken from one suspicious, but unknowing night watchman to another.