President Donald J. Trump really likes fire engines. They’re big. They’re red. They’re shiny. And because he’s president, he can get up in one whenever he wants to.
On Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, as Houston lay drowning, Trump admired an adoring, pre-screened crowd from atop the bumper of a firetruck parked at a rural firehouse. “What a crowd,” the president said, as if he were addressing a campaign rally. “What a turnout!”
During a press event with Texas Governor Greg Abbot, Trump had to stop himself mid-sentence from congratulating the governor and himself for a job well done, even as the disaster wrought by Hurricane Harvey continued to unfold in Houston and beyond. “We won’t say congratulations until it’s over,” he said. “We’ll do that later.” But he did promise his audience that "we’re going to get you back and operating immediately." Though unclear just who he meant by “you,” it’s unlikely that anything much in the inundated region of south Texas will be up and running anytime soon, never mind “immediately.”
By Wednesday, even as word spread of the breach of petrochemical plants in Houston that were now releasing toxins into the air, it seemed that Trump, who wants to cut the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by a third, had moved on from the historic disaster in Texas. His Wednesday plan is to deliver a speech in Missouri to build support for a major tax cut he wants Congress to pass. The tax plans under consideration disproportionately benefit the wealthy, and would shrink corporate tax rates significantly.
While the natural catastrophe engulfing Houston and moving on to Louisiana is one of unimaginable proportions, America as a whole is facing a historic disaster in the form of the Trump administration. Trump’s firetruck optics on Tuesday came on the heels of his assertion that the timing of his announcement of his pardon of the racist, Constitution-flouting Joe Arpaio—the former Arizona sheriff famous for imposing cruel and unusual punishment on his captives—was designed to take advantage of the media coverage being devoted to Hurricane Harvey. It was also likely designed as a wink and a nod to the white supremacists in his base whom Trump was pushed to condemn in the aftermath of attacks on protesters by members of the racist right in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12.
Amid all that Trumpian chaos, both The Washington Post and The New York Times broke news in the story of the Trump campaign’s engagement with people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as agents of the Russian government were likely preparing to intervene in the 2016 presidential election. First, the Post reported that two representatives of the Trump Organization (as the president calls the group of privately-held companies he owns) sought on Trump’s behalf to cut a deal, with the help of Putin’s spokesperson, for the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow, even as Trump campaigned for the presidency. Then the Times published excerpts of emails between Felix Sater, the convicted felon who served as something of a rainmaker for the Trump Organization, and Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime attorney.
Sater seemed to think a deal for the Moscow tower would further Trump’s political fortunes. From the Times:
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
For his part, Cohen dutifully wrote to Dmitri Peskov, the Putin spokesperson, seeking help with the deal. In the meantime, Trump sent kisses and cuddles to Putin from the campaign trail. And despite Trump’s protestations that he had no dealings with Russia, an email from Cohen states that Trump had signed a letter of intent for the Moscow deal, which ultimately never came together.
In the meantime, the Senate Judiciary Committee cut a deal on Tuesday with Donald Trump, Jr., the president’s eldest son, for closed-door testimony about that June 2016 meeting he convened in Trump Tower with a Russian attorney who was apparently seeking a promise for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia in exchange for information that would be damaging to Trump’s general election opponent, Hillary Clinton. On August 22, the committee interviewed Glenn Simpson, the principal of FusionGPS, the firm that financed the dossier on Trump compiled by Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent.
To recap: The president responded to a catastrophic event with a photo op on a fire engine, said he used the news coverage of that deadly catastrophe to advance word of his pardon of a known racist who was convicted of contempt of court, made that pardon after being widely condemned for blaming the violence in Charlottesville on people on “many sides” and was revealed to have lied about his business dealings in Russia, a country the U.S. intelligence community has concluded intervened in the U.S. presidential election in aid of the Trump candidacy.
And still the Congress, which is controlled by the president’s party, has made no move that would lead to Trump’s removal from the presidency, which is necessary to the survival of the republic. After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the chance to get that tax cut rammed through.
Meanwhile, the people of Houston trudge through toxic waters, and the president looks forward to his next chance to climb a firetruck—as long as it’s not headed to an actual fire.
Before the nation spontaneously combusts, it would be good of Congress to pull the alarm by preparing articles of impeachment. Yeah, I know. But a girl can dream.