American Breakdown

David Bromwich in the London Review of Books:

A seasonal report on the Trump presidency had better begin with a disclaimer. Anything one says is sure to be displaced by some entirely unexpected thing the president does between writing and publication. This has happened once already, with the Putin-Trump press briefing in Helsinki and the strange spectacle it afforded: the almost physical manifestation of Trump’s deference to Putin. It may happen again, whether as a result of the volume of sabre-rattling or the onset of war with Iran; a decision to sack Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating meddling in the 2016 election; a shutdown of the federal government to extort funds for the wall with Mexico; a sudden intensification of the president’s attacks on his political enemies and accusers in pending court cases.

These eruptions of breaking news are not only possible but certain to occur, because Trump comports himself not as a president or even a politician, but as a reality TV host. He is a showman above all. In a process where the media are cast as reviewers, and voters as spectators, the show is getting bad reviews but doing nicely: the clear sign of success is that nobody can stop talking about the star. He keeps up the suspense with teasers and decoys and unscheduled interruptions, with changes in the sponsors and the supporting cast and production team. The way to match the Trump pace is by tweeting; but that is to play his game – a gambit the White House press corps have found irresistible. Much of the damage to US politics over the last two years has been done by the anti-Trump media themselves, with their mood of perpetual panic and their lack of imagination. But the uncanny gift of Trump is an infectious vulgarity, and with it comes the power to make his enemies act with nearly as little self-restraint as he does. The proof is in the tweets.

More here.  [Thanks to Ali Minai.]