So It’s One, Two, Three Strikes You’re Out …

Posted January 12, 2018 9:07 p.m. EST

We are now living in the land of the triple whammy.

The nation is reeling from Donald Trump’s immigration week, during which he changed personalities on several occasions, made the now-famous complaint about African “shithole countries” and appeared to believe that if we just changed our rules, droves of Norwegians would flee the oppression of generous pensions and quality health care to become U.S. citizens.

Trump has a way of creating three-step crises: He begins with an unnerving decision, then makes it clear he’ll be doing nothing to minimize the potential damage. Then comes Step 3, which involves something so bizarre that it’s almost scary.

OK, often really scary.

Take North Korea. Trump began a policy of diplomacy-by-insult, calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” in a U.N. address. Then it became clear he was going to pursue it via Twitter. Then came the “my button works” moment.

Or offshore drilling. Just last week, the administration said it would allow new oil and gas drilling in almost all our coastal waters. We’re talking more than a billion acres. Many people — particularly the ones who live along the coasts — think this is a terrible idea.

Then, Step 2: This would be the moment, in a normal administration, when someone reassures us that the new offshore drilling will be watched very carefully to make sure there aren’t any disastrous spills.

That would be the job of the Department of the Interior, which is run by Ryan Zinke, a great pal of the oil industry. Zinke has yet to come up with nominations for some of the department’s most important posts. There’s serious understaffing and low morale, which he responded to by instituting a take-your-dog-to-work program.

And just to make sure we’re comfortable, Zinke is preparing to repeal the safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion dumped hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the water off Louisiana.

Now, the Trump administration had a new and unnerving policy, plus a rising pile of evidence that any bad results were likely to occur in the worst way possible. It was time for a bizarre Step 3. Zinke suddenly announced that Florida was “unique” and that there would be no offshore drilling there.

People, why do you think Florida is “unique”?

A) It has a Republican governor who might try to run for the Senate.

B) It looks most like a thumb.

C) Trump didn’t want anybody messing with the view at Mar-a-Lago.

It’s true about the governor, but C sounds completely reasonable. There is no doubt, even among many Trump supporters, that this is a guy who would change a major federal policy to protect his view.

A lot of other coastal Republicans demanded to know why their states didn’t get the same special treatment. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina howled that the Mar-a-Lago angle sounded “self-serving.” Sanford is the guy who sneaked out of the governor’s office to visit a mistress in South America and is, of course, well-known for never thinking of himself first.

Still, here’s the bottom line on offshore drilling: We’re looking at a big change that many people hate, which will probably be badly overseen and which appears to be organized around principles so daffy they don’t make sense even to Trump’s own party.

One, two, three, we’re out.

Now, about immigration. Given the tenor of Trump’s campaign, we knew there was going to be trouble. Step 1 came when he killed an Obama administration program protecting Dreamers — young people who were brought across the border as children and grew up as Americans.

It appeared there was a good chance Congress would take care of the problem during the ongoing budget negotiations. Then Trump decided he wanted to play hero. He called an on-camera, bipartisan meeting in which he urged everyone to come up with a Dreamers-protection deal right away and vowed he’d sign anything they came up with.

He was so virtuous you’d have thought he had a halo, except it was just that hair.

For a minute, it looked like the crisis was over. Then, in a very short space of time, Trump vaulted into Step 2, yelling “No! No! No!” when asked if he’d accept any plan that didn’t include a border wall.

The Republicans and Democrats came up with a compromise that ties protection for the Dreamers to a ton of nonwall security money. The sheer reasonableness of their effort triggered Step 3, in which Trump rejected everything, complained about the “shithole countries” and sent Washington into chaos.

During the ensuing uproar, via Twitter, the president sort of denied he’d said anything unusual and claimed some of his best friends were Haitians.

While the whole world was reacting, with the deepest negativity, Trump took time out to tell The Wall Street Journal that he “was always the best athlete. … I was successful at everything I ever did,” going on and on into that smartest-person territory we remember from the “very stable genius” tweets.

Meanwhile, if nothing gets worked out, next week the government closes down.

Step 4, anyone?

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