It promises to be a long, tendentious summer.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, fired Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, as The Hill put it, “delivered several gut-punches to Trump and his administration, but there was no knockout blow.”
The war between the president and the former FBI chief – and Donald Trump’s war with legions of other detractors, skeptics and critics – will drag on, inconclusively and disruptively, through the summer and beyond.
Meanwhile, we an expect a distracted and angry Congress to struggle to gain any traction on either the Republican leadership’s agenda or the president’s muddled, barely coherent and often shifting agenda. A lowlight might prove to be the ever-recurring battle over raising the nation’s debt limit, a not-so-long-ago routine maneuver that has become a partisan brawl.
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Even infrastructure spending, which only a few weeks ago seemed to hold promise of some bipartisan progress, appears stalled both by toxic partisanship and presidential ineptness.
In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-dominated legislature gave us a reminder of their fraught relationship in the response to the Supreme Court decision concluding that many state legislative districts were racially gerrymandered and diluted the influence of black voters.
In the wake of the Monday ruling, the legislative leadership made clear it was in no hurry to set about redrawinng the districts. On Wednesday, Cooper called a special session of the legislature – concurrent with the regular session underway – to redraw them. Thursday, the legislature rejected the session call as unconstitutional.
From Jones Street in Raleigh to Capitol Hill in Washington there is, of course, no small element of theater in these political maneuverings. Comey’s supporters hailed his masterful political skills and his steely composure during his testimony. Richard Burr, our senior senator and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned in a performance that was, as McClatchy Washington bureau reporters William Douglas and Lesley Clark characterized it, “designed to offer conservatives a simple, sound-bite-friendly way to support the White House.”
That description underscores the fact that political theater matters. In our fractured nation, all sides are intent on firing up their bases and claiming the narrative that might sway, if not their opponents, those few Americans who may remain in the middle.
Most discouragingly, the events of these past few months and certainly the past few days reflect an apt observation by New York Times columnist, and conservative, David Brooks. “Donald Trump is characterologically at war with the norms and practices of good government...a tribalist and a clannist who simply cannot understand the way modern government works,” Brooks wrote Friday.
It’s going to be a long summer, and beyond.