There is that moment when you stand at the edge of the ocean with your feet in the water, when before you can see it, you feel it: the water and the sand start rushing back out, precursor to the retraction of the sea. Not the beginning or the end; the shift in the middle part of the cycle signaling change.
That is what the last few days have felt like for the Trump Administration.
It was predictable, but the suddenness of when it happened still caught many off guard. The momentary success of the rare bi-partisan piece of legislation in the First Steps act was one piece of news. The announcement of troop withdrawals from Syria was another. Then there is the semi-annual government shutdown theater, this time with the twist of President Trump making good on a threat to not sign a bill that didn’t have his wall in some form or fashion included. So off dashed the representatives for a late evening vote to change the continuing resolution, and now we wait on the Senate.
Then came the news that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is stepping down.
In truly Trumpian fashion, it was first announced on the presidents Twitter feed as a “retirement,” which seemed plausible enough as Mattis had been on rocky terms with the White House for some months. But soon thereafter when Mattis’ resignation letter became public, along with reports that he resigned after meeting with the president on the suddenly announced Syrian withdrawal, it was clear that was not the case.
Such news at the end of an insanely busy news day was bound to cause much reaction. Pundits, media, and opponents of the president have been longing for that first Trump Administration official of note to “stand up” to Trump. They will be disappointed in James Mattis, who, while blunt in his letter, remained professional and will not be fronting the resistance anytime soon. He said all he had to say there, and with his 40+ years of service. The fact that his letter, simply stating the obvious while maintaining decorum in tone, stood out so much speaks more to the time and leadership we currently have than to the old Marine general. It does seem a pivotal moment.
What it isn’t is the end of the Trump Administration, as the White House’s opponents were hoping. Nor is it a betterment of the president’s position, as the die-hard MAGA folks insisted. The first will happen at some point; the later is doubtful but not impossible.
But it is a noticeable change.
With Mattis’ depature comes an end to the narrative started during the transition by some that sought to offset the Presidents obvious faults by pointing out the quality of some of the people that would surround him. Mattis, John Kelly first at Homeland then as Chief of Staff, Tillerson at State, and 64 other senior administrations official have come, gone, or are going soon. The incoming Democratic majority in the house is promising to investigate anything with the faintest hint of Trumpian impropriety. Though the Senate saw small Republican gains, the president’s relationship with Majority Leader McConnell is testy at best, despite the latter being responsible for the president’s triumphs of two successful SCOTUS nominations. With impeachment looming, the frenemy Senator from Kentucky might also become the president’s last line of defense. The White House that came to the levers of power with total party control of the government now sees a future with little hope of congressional cooperation and little to show for the two years of Republican trifecta rule. It will, for the president, the country, and all of us, get worse before it gets better.
But that is for another day. Today many are noticing for the first time the shifting sands and rushing water of the ebb tide. Some falsely conclude it is low tide, that things can not and will not become even more complicated, more divisive, and reach an even higher pitch of rhetoric and discord. It is not low tide. Nor is it the beginning of a renewed red wave, if such a thing existed at all, to sweep the president back into a position of strength. This is the middle, the turning, the beginning of the hard part. It’s the feeling of inevitability at your feet, running by regardless of what is wanted, dreamed of, or promised. The tide doesn’t care.
The only question left is who will still be standing when the tide comes back in.