OPINION — In television shows, the cliffhanger is a bit of a cheat, putting a lead character in jeopardy so fans will have a reason to tune into the new season. Those (including me) who have labeled the current president and his administration something of a reality show — with its surprise guests, plot twists and dizzying cast of characters — could hardly have predicted how much Trump and crew would have followed the script.
As 2018 ends, the United States is on the brink of not only a new year but also new and not always encouraging developments of national and international significance. And no one, certainly not the president, knows how it will end.
The first question is, of course, when will the government get back to work after a shutdown. Holiday travel showed that some federal workers were compelled to show up — though without being paid. Whether you say Season’s Greetings or the non-inclusive, White House-mandated Merry Christmas, it was a lump of coal in the stocking.
The president blew up a temporary budget deal he had indicated he would sign until members of his base indicated that they took promises of a border wall both seriously and literally. Now there is a version of a stand-off; but who will blink first? The all-too-real deaths of two young children are reminders of the consequences of a broken immigration system and the need for coming to some sort of agreement on an issue Washington has avoided confronting through many administrations.
Wall Street, which craves stability, is suffering a case of the jitters, with stocks tumbling in December, the worst showing for that month since Depression years, and a president railing against the Fed chair he appointed.
If a writer concocted a melodramatic plot with a U.S. Treasury secretary (the same one who, with his wife, once held sheets of freshly minted cash in an ill-advised photo while the GOP was orchestrating a tax-plan overhaul) launching a series of meant to be calming check-in calls to bankers from a Cabo San Lucas vacation spot and contributing to the financial chaos — that writer would be laughed out of the room.
Leave it to Steven Mnuchin to bring the scene to life.
Trump has expressed confidence in Mnuchin, perhaps grateful that he is an island of stability in an ever-changing staff. With several departments headed by “acting” leaders, the White House human resources department would be busy, if it were not affected by the shutdown. Many of the generals and top military brass Trump once boasted of being straight out of central casting have not fared so well, with Michael Flynn facing possible prison time, John Kelly gone and James Mattis soon joining him.
One wonders how family conversations during the holidays are going, with paterfamilias inquiring if the kids, save his youngest son who thankfully could keep his head down, are properly lawyered up and ready to face what comes of the Mueller investigation and inquiries from a Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. Call it the anti- “Dynasty,” for those who remember that 1980s mainstay of intrigue and romance, not the more recent reboot.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation can no longer be counted on to provide relief or fountains outside his properties since Trump, the man who has said he does not settle and still says he has done nothing wrong, has agreed to shut down his charity. But in another “to be continued,” that action does not free him or family members of the board from further investigation by the New York attorney general’s office. In fact, incoming New York Attorney General Letitia James has said Trump can count on it.
Looking to the new year, imagine these Democratic House members heading congressional committees: Jerrold Nadler at Judiciary, Elijah Cummings at Oversight and Government Reform, Maxine Waters at Financial Services, Adam B. Schiff at Intelligence, and more.
Any one could provide enough drama for a spin-off.
And that’s not considering America’s global allies and enemies, looking for reassurance or, in the case of Russia, China, and other power players, for opportunities to take on a starring leadership role. The poor and persecuted, as always, have little say in the matter.
With 2019 looming, this particular “show,” which had the 2016 endorsement of those looking for excitement, has lost any trace of entertainment value. Too many storylines with no clear resolution mean it’s not just the president and his supporters left hanging.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.