After talks early last year between President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress aimed at ending a government shutdown fell apart, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in exasperation that it was “like negotiating with Jell-O.”

He indicated that each time Democrats thought they had a deal on some aspect of the dispute, Mr. Trump would shimmy and shake and wiggle his way out, like the frozen dessert being carried on a tray. It’s this President’s modus operandi: say yes, then no; change the terms after shaking hands; claim you were misquoted although your remarks were taped.

You may lose the respect of people for whom dealing in good faith is part of an honor code. But being insufferable and disingenuous can help you win if wear down your opponents and they finally yield just to shut you up or make you go away.

That style is in action as Mr. Trump tries to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 Census, even after Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts rejected the administration’s appeal of a lower-court ruling because he found Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s rationale for adding the question “contrived.”

That is a polite way of saying Mr. Ross told a whopper when he claimed the question was meant to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act. The Commerce Secretary pushed for the citizenship question months before Justice requested it. It was revealed in May that a key portion of the department’s letter on the issue was written by an expert on gerrymandering after he concluded that including the question would help Republicans to tilt electoral maps in many states further in their favor.

It is widely believed that the citizenship question if used would discourage from participating not only undocumented immigrants but some who are living here legally, creating an undercount that would hurt states that lean Democratic on both Federal aid and seats in the House of Representatives that are determined by the Census.

The Supreme Court heard the case because of administration claims the issue had to be settled before the end of June so that Census forms, with or without the question, could be printed on time. Once Justice Roberts issued the majority opinion, Mr. Ross indicated July 2 that he was ready to start the printing.

But a day later, Mr. Trump unleashed a tweet stating that reports his administration was conceding were “FAKE!” and adding, “We are absolutely moving forward.”

Among those who were stunned were Justice Department lawyers, who apparently were under the impression that this was not an appropriate way to do business. By July 7, it was announced that they were off the case, and Attorney General William Barr was shopping in other Federal agencies for replacements.

Call it chaotic, call it a travesty. But it’s what can happen when the man in the Oval Office has the temperament of a 12-year old, and the purported adults around him just roll their eyebrows and shrug their shoulders.


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