In his first six months in office, President Donald Trump has offered sound and fury, and not much else. Any lingering hopes that he might grow into his role as commander-in-chief evaporated this week, a chaotic and self-destructive one even by the dismal standards of this presidency.
Mr Trump, a real estate tycoon who counts himself a leader of men, has proved incapable of wielding power responsibly. He publicly undermined his own attorney-general, one of his earliest and most loyal supporters. He blindsided the Pentagon with a tweeted ban on transgender personnel in the military. And he stood by while his newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci waged a lewd real-time assault on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff.
Karl Rove, the Texan conservative who orchestrated George W Bush’s successful presidential campaigns, offered his damning view. “If Mr Trump continues this self-destructive behaviour, he will drown out his message and maybe even blast his presidency to bits before his first year in office is even out.”
Mr Rove is far from alone on the Republican side warning Mr Trump that he is on a perilous course. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina predicted there would be “hell to pay” if the president removed Jeff Sessions as attorney-general as a prelude to firing Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr Trump may well believe that he is above the political fray, even above the law. His definition of executive privilege is generous, to say the least. By some accounts, he is already looking into whether he can pardon himself should any charges be brought by the independent counsel relating to collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. This is deeply dangerous territory, not just for Mr Trump but for the American republic.
Mr Trump is testing the constitutional system to destruction, not because of the impropriety and profanity of aides such as Mr Scaramucci but because he fails to understand how the US political system is supposed to work.
His repeated failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act — a signature policy of his campaign — is a sign of how little sway he holds over fellow Republicans. More serious is the de facto rebuke he elicited on transgender troops from General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. The president has no right to change military policy by tweet.
This is a presidency unanchored, with a captain at the helm drunk on power. With the possible exception of China policy, every foray he has made on the global stage, from his withdrawal from the Paris climate change treaty to his clumsy interventions in the Gulf and his equivocations on the Nato alliance, has damaged America’s standing. Once the indispensable partner, Mr Trump’s America is now the country to circumvent.
This is a matter of profound regret. Yet in the darkest hour there are glimmers of hope: Republican men and women in the Senate, led by the indomitable John McCain, a war hero traduced by Mr Trump, standing firm; independent judges standing by the rule of law. Democrats and Republicans are starting to draw constitutional red lines.
The big test will be the Mueller probe. At another more practical level, the question is whether Mr Trump is capable of achieving anything of note. Without a profound change in behaviour and direction, his presidency is not sustainable.