Talk about March Madness.
That description doesn’t just fit the yearly explosion of hoops hoopla — aka the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, now down to its Sweet 16 level after a first week of results. It could just as well apply to a week or so of the further and not so wonderful but chaotic adventures of President Donald Trump.
The 2018 version of the basketball tournament has been highlighted by some astonishing upsets from beginning to (so far) end, as well as several midlevel surprises.
The 2018 version of Trumpland has been highlighted by a greater number than usual of firings at the White House staff and Cabinet level, an ongoing or impending scandal, a level of Twitter activity by the president that feels unprecedented in volume and fury and the heightening of tensions on the Russian thing between Trump and special counsel Robert S. Muller III, who seem to be on a high-stakes, critical collision course.
The NCAA tournament gave birth to astonishment on the very first day of competition, when the unheard-of University of Maryland Baltimore County accomplished the unheard-of achievement of becoming the first 16th-seeded team in the history of the tournament to defeat a number-one seed, impressively rolling over the University of Virginia, 74-54. Virginia, which had lost only two games all year, was not only the top seed in its region, but the top overall seed in the tournament.
The trend climaxed on Saturday, when Xavier, the top seed in the West Region, fell to ninth-seeded Florida State in the second round, 75-70.
There were other shockers. Syracuse, once a Georgetown University menace during the heyday of the Big East Conference, had a play-in game to even get a spot in the tournament, but has since, as an 11th-seed, knocked off sixth-seeded Texas Christian University and third-seeded Michigan State. And seventh-seeded Texas A&M knocked out defending champ and second-seeded North Carolina in the West Regional.
The joy of the UMBC Cinderella win soon ended in a second-round defeat to Kansas State, as such things often go.
Nothing that happened in the vitriolic, tweet-fed land of Trump seemed predictable (or even perhaps allowable) and certainly not traditional in any sense of presidential behavior, although it was certainly classic Trump wheelhouse action. There were top-seeded firings and tweets, some of which per practice challenged the truth. There was consternation in some parts of the ranks of the legislative bodies, and deafening silence.
In the recent spate of firings, the top seed would have to go to impassive Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose firing was announced on Twitter. He was reportedly informed by the White House Chief of Staff that he should come home to Washington pronto. Tillerson was on a trip to Asia, where he had already experienced the thrill of having one of his pronouncements — that negotiation with North Korea was not imminent — countered by Trump’s dramatic agreement to meet with his North Korean counterpart.
Tillerson left public office with grace, thanking State Department employees for their service, but pointedly not mentioning the president.
Firing number two came late this week, with the axing of Andrew McCabe, former deputy to former FBI Director James B. Comey, who has a book coming out and was fired last May. This time, the firing came by way of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department.
McCabe, who said he wrote memos to himself during meetings with the president (Trump suggested in a tweet that they were fake memos), is accused of leaking information to the press. In a touch of small-minded, small-spirited meanness, McCabe was fired just days before his official retirement, which could cut him off from his benefit payments.
Talk-show pundits wondered out loud whether Trump was planning to fire Muller and touch off a political crisis. Certainly, the president seems to be acting even more erratically than usual, with exclamation points and all caps dominating his tweets. He appeared to feel his oats in top-of-the-world-ma form only recently, after pushing out Tillerson and announcing the possible North Korean meeting and a controversial tariff proposal. Yet, he appears now to be like a marathon runner who’s just been lapped by the field and misreads his situation, thinking he’s ahead.
Some Republicans have cautioned Trump not to take on Muller or fire him. Lindsay Graham, for one, said that such a move “could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
As for the GOP leadership … dead silence from Mitch McConnell and a mumble-jumble response from the speaker of the House. It’s clear the GOP is worried. They lost a special election in Pennsylvania, after all.
Here’s the latest tweet from the president as of this morning: “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”
To sum up March Madness: Villanova wins. Trump vs. Stormy, too close to call.
We can hardly wait for April Fool’s.