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Wherever you stand, it’s easy to agree that Donald Trump is anything but a "usual" president. Next Sunday will mark two years since President Trump’s inauguration. And so the reporters and editors at The Atlantic have put together a special report that tries to take stock of this presidency with a cool head and clear eyes. Thanks to them, we have a look at what they describe as 50 extraordinary moments in an extraordinary presidency.
Three members of that Atlantic team — Adrienne LaFrance, editor of TheAtlantic.com, who developed and co-edited the series "Unthinkable," national security editor Yara Bayoumy and staff writer McKay Coppins — joined us to break things down.
On patterns in the president's definitive moments since inauguration
Adrienne LaFrance: "The pattern is sort of within the framing, which is this shattering of norms, and so we see that happening across all different kinds of behaviors both in how he communicates with the press and the way that he sees institutions — that's a major one, just a disregard for institutional norms. It happens in sort of small ways and then very big ways, and so I think, day-to-day, it can be hard to attach a weight to whatever it is that has happened, but looking back over two years — I mean, we had a research team comb through every single day of the first two years of the presidency and we had, at first, hundreds of moments that we wanted to parse down from. We wound up with 50."
"In another era, at another time, in another presidency, these kind of reports would derail a presidency. But we've now had two years of reports like this. Everyone in Washington has become desensitized to them."McKay Coppins
On desensitization to the president's norm-breaking
McKay Coppins: "There's this corrosive effect that all of these unprecedented, unthinkable moments piling on top of each other has on our politics. We have, here in Washington, a situation where the president's party has become so desensitized to all of these major bombshells that are coming out in the news, the Russia investigation, and, at least so far, for the most part, there has been this partisan linking of arms surrounding the White House to defend him against every accusation. In another era, at another time, in another presidency, these kind of reports would derail a presidency. But we've now had two years of reports like this. Everyone in Washington has become desensitized to them, and, to a certain extent, I think a lot of us in the country at large have. And the effect is that we don't have the same kind of political consequences that we probably would have in another period of time."
On accusations that the media misconstrues the president's words and actions
Coppins: "I understand that frustration and I actually hear it from a lot of President Trump's supporters, when I go to his rallies, when I am talking to Republicans here in Washington. They will often say, you know, there's this 'Trump derangement syndrome' that's overtaken the media and the Democrats and makes it so that everything he does is portrayed negatively and nobody gives any context to anything he says or does. I think that that's a half-fair critique. I do think that there is some of that, but I also think that the people making that argument often downplay the degree to which President Trump is genuinely doing unprecedented things. The fact that we could create this package and go through this list, that we had to dramatically pare down hundreds of examples to get to these 50, I guess I would ask people who make this argument to go through this list of 50 things, these unthinkable moments as we've described them, and tell us which of these is getting too much attention. Which of these is acceptable or normal behavior from a president? Because I do think that while the 'Trump derangement question is real,' there's also a huge normalizing effect that this president has had in creating this accommodation-ist attitude toward behavior that we never would have accepted or seen as normal in another president."
"Day-to-day, it can be hard to attach a weight to whatever it is that has happened, but looking back over two years -- I mean, we had a research team comb through every single day of the first two years of the presidency and we had, at first, hundreds of moments that we wanted to parse down from."Adrienne LaFrance
On how the United States' allies have adapted to President Trump's decision-making
Yara Bayoumy: "This is not operating in a vacuum and there has also been an evolution in the reaction to Trump, as well, in these moments, and particularly in these issues of national security. When we look at the beginning of the presidency, a lot of the pronouncements, audacious pronouncements, that were made, held allies were usually quite stunned, unable to know what to make of it and scrambling to try and figure out how to deal with the fallout. When you look at where we are today, you see that they are much more proactive because of what they see as damage that the U.S. is embarking on. A really great example of that, which was also an essay that we wrote about, was how world leaders reacted to Trump at the United Nations General Assembly address in September. They were able to, at that point, very comfortably laugh at the president after he made this pronouncement that his administration had accomplished nearly more than any other administration had previously. We also see that European allies now are very much taking into their own hands how they can deal with issues of their national security, where they can no longer depend on the U.S. as they could before. So I think there is, also, an evolution here in sort of what the reaction is.
"If this is going to be the measure by which the Trump presidency measures its success, then you have to look at the next time there is a major national security threat in which America will need its European allies, and how will European allies react in that sense when they can no longer count on the U.S. That is a major question that we may be tested on in coming years."
Alex Schroeder adapted this interview for the web.
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