Paul Hampton

Good news! We haven’t gone over the cliff — but hang on

Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., left, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, listen on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 3, as FBI Director James Comey testifies.
Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., left, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, listen on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 3, as FBI Director James Comey testifies. Associated Press File

This is like waking up in the backseat to find there is no one at the wheel.

I’m now used to being jolted awake by the rumbling of another Twitterstorm from the White House. I’m used to the president haranguing the media, disputing news stories, disagreeing with statements his spokespeople have just uttered.

It’s not business as usual, though it is what President Donald Trump promised: An end to business as usual. And that’s a promise in some ways he is over-delivering on.

But Friday was different.

It started, as days often do, with social media crackling with arguments over a Trump tweet: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”

Suddenly my vacation, which ended Thursday, seemed a lifetime ago.

Yes, that tweet was a remarkable punctuation mark on an extraordinary week, which began with a lot of spin on the Sunday news shows about upcoming testimony by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Then there was the hearing Monday that, as expected, featured Yates telling senators the White House had been warned that Michael Flynn, for a few days Trump’s national security adviser, may have been compromised by Russia.

Then Tuesday, out of the blue, Trump fired Comey. Thus began a wildfire. And arguments over whether spokesman Sean Spicer was standing in the bushes or among the bushes.

By Friday, Comey associates were tattling to the New York Times, saying Trump had asked Comey to dinner before the firing to ask for his loyalty. Comey, it was reported, offered honesty. That wasn’t enough. On Friday we have the president essentially threatening the recently fired head of the FBI to shut up, or else.

So I’m driving to work trying to sort all that out and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, comes on MPB radio. He, it seems, already had done the heavy lifting for me.

“We have a crisis of public trust in this country that is much deeper than just the last four months or the last 18 months,” he told Steve Inskeep of NPR. “We have an erosion of a shared narrative about what America is about. And we have the huge unpopularity of almost all of our governing institutions. That should trouble everybody.”

That’s not just a national story, either. On the Coast, I’ve seen more nastiness in the ongoing municipal elections than I have in a long time. We have a congressman who seems MIA. The last I heard from him was May 5, when he talked about the repeal of Obamacare as if it were a done deal when in reality, it has been sidetracked by the concerns raised by Sasse and others.

“We need to know a lot more about 2016, but the thing that keeps me up at night is 2018 and 2020,” Sasse said. “We know what the Russians are trying to do. We know that technology around info ops (information operations) is getting better and better.”

I’d be more worried about the folks who are less than satisfied with the GOP’s attempt at “improving” on Obamacare. Polls put support for that bill somewhere between 21 and 38 percent. Or, as Sasse is, that fact that civility is out of fashion.

Gallup says Congress’ approval rating is hovering at 20 percent. Trump’s is at 38 percent, even lower than the record low of 41 percent at the end of his first 100 days, just a few days ago.

Anyone believe this is going to end well?

I have to admire Sasse’s optimism, though. He seems to think we’ll make it to 2018 and 2020.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton