WASHINGTON – Calls to the White House switchboard during this Christmas holiday are greeted by the following message:
“We apologize, but due to the lapse in federal funding we are unable to take your call. Once funding has been restored, our operations will resume. Please call back at that time.”
Is there a better distillation of the Trump administration after year two? You have reached the White House. We are not functioning. Please try again later.
“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House,” President Trump tweeted at lunchtime Monday, urging Democrats to return to town to negotiate with him.
One pictures the home-alone president, forlorn among Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees in the echoey executive mansion, padding about in bathrobe and slippers, a 72-year-old Kevin McCallister without the resourcefulness to ice the back steps or put ornaments under the windows.
Instead, Trump’s booby traps ensnare the nation:
His orders setting up chaotic withdrawals of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan have allies reeling and adversaries rejoicing.
He forced a government shutdown over 1/10th of 1 percent of the budget – a spectacle that Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee Sunday called “made up” and “juvenile.” (Trump responded with a misspelled Twitter attack on Corker.)
Meanwhile, markets continue plunging, in part because of Trump’s trade war and his attacks on the Federal Reserve.
And, across the federal government, nobody is minding the store.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has quit in protest, to be replaced by an acting secretary who until last year had no military or government experience.
Trump’s special envoy coordinating the fight against the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, has quit in protest, and Trump says he doesn’t know him.
Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, responded to the government shutdown and market chaos by flying to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a resort vacation. From there, Mnuchin tried to calm markets by convening his crisis “Plunge Protection Team” and calling U.S. bankers to gain assurances that they have “ample liquidity” – which only caused more market panic and another 650-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average on Christmas Eve.
Not a creature is stirring in the rest of the Trump administration, either.
The attorney general was fired, and his acting replacement pitched hot tubs before joining the administration.
The secretary of the interior submitted his resignation this month.
The chief of staff at the White House is leaving, and the incoming acting chief, Mick Mulvaney, is also the budget director and former acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
There are more actors in the Trump administration than there are waiting tables in Manhattan.
The president, for his part, put off a planned trip to Mar-a-Lago so that he can spend uninterrupted time in the White House blaming his few remaining appointees for his troubles. But this only seems to make things worse.
Denied the fairways, Trump on Monday used a golf simile in a tweeted attack on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell, a Trump appointee: “The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!”
And Trump’s blaming of Mnuchin for the market turmoil reportedly prompted Mnuchin’s panic-inducing statement Sunday attempting to restore calm. At a time when investors had no reason to doubt the stability of U.S. banks, Mnuchin’s liquidity reassurance was the equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying it is confident it can contain a previously unreported Ebola pandemic in the United States.
In The New York Times, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman portray Trump descending into paranoia, suspicious his staff is secretly undermining him, and giving the “impression of a presidency at risk of spinning out of control.” (Fake News! This presidency was never under control.)
Melania Trump has returned from Mar-a-Lago to keep her husband company, but she doubtless won’t be happy about leaving the sunshine. With only Fox News and a Twitter account to occupy him beforehand, the president must have been growing desperate:
Siri, why can’t the president fire the Fed chairman?
Alexa, who is Brett McGurk?
Hey Google, do I really need a Cabinet?
In the quiet old house, the president, with no advisers to turn to, calls the White House switchboard operator:
Would Laura Ingraham make a good chief of staff?
Who were successful one-term presidents?
Is impeachment bad?
Who is the fairest of them all?
“We apologize, but due to the lapse in federal funding, we are unable to take your call.”
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.