President Trump gives America a week like no other

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey has uncoiled a whole administration's worth of shocks, contradictions and blockbuster moments.

Those shocks will continue to reverberate next week and beyond because the issues involved are fundamental to American democracy, challenging the credibility of the White House and the vital legal institutions that sustain government.

As always in politics, timing is everything, and the timing here raises questions about the use and possible abuse of presidential power: Why did Trump do it? And more importantly, why now?

Orchestrating the chaos, as always, was Trump himself, who largely stayed out of public view last week but managed to incite pandemonium nonetheless.

In a dizzying sequence of events, sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned in Senate testimony Monday that ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn was a ripe blackmail target for Russia while in office.

The president suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, and then blindsided his own vice president with his shifting reasoning before sabotaging the White House press operation that was trying to defend him.

Amid reports he demanded a loyalty pledge from Comey, critics warned Trump was guilty of a grotesque abuse of power, or even worse.

But the president was not done. He suggested that Comey's investigation into links between his presidential campaign and Russia were indeed the reason he was fired.

In a Friday morning tweetstorm, he seemed to suggest he had a Nixon-style White House taping operation, and told Comey to stay mum.

Next, he proposed ending press briefings because it's impossible for his communications team to keep up with the whiplash of his stream-of-consciousness presidency.

Trump's behavior provoked confusion and criticism in Washington. But the president is defiant and might have had his detractors in mind as he delivered a commencement address Saturday at Liberty University, in Virginia.

"No one has ever achieved anything significant without a chorus of critics standing on the sideline saying why it can't be done," Trump said. "Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic."

Meanwhile, out in the country, the political contagion is spreading.

In North Dakota, tempers boiled over at a town hall event hosted by Rep. Kevin Cramer.

A man demanded to know whether the rich would benefit from the repeal of Obamacare and was escorted out by police after trying to shove a wad of cash into Cramer's collar.

Republican Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan was shouted down by constituents shouting "health care for all."

GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, who helped pass the Obamacare repeal bill, walked into a metaphorical bear pit in his New Jersey district.

"Open your eyes!" screamed one anti-Trump voter.

In West Virginia, a reporter was arrested after firing a string of questions at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

At times, in Washington and elsewhere, it seemed as though the country's political equilibrium was at grave risk.

It's now normal to observe that Trump is not like a conventional politician, that the point of his political project is to flout norms and shake up the cozy establishment and that the press takes him too literally.

And when Trump behaves in a way that has the media and Washington establishment types running around with their hair on fire, his loyal base of voters who sent him to the White House see a mission accomplished.

There's also no sign that congressional leaders are ready to desert him.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, for instance, said Friday: "I've decided I'm not going to comment on the tweets of the day or the hour."

Trump went back to his seemingly impervious well of political support Friday, in a fundraising drive emailed to supporters in which he said: "Let's show the hypocrites, liars, and 'elites' of Washington that the American people are dead serious about our mission to DRAIN THE SWAMP."

But despite the loyalty of his base and for all the cacophony of the last three months, and the riotous campaign in 2016, the last week has seemed different.

It felt at times that the White House was spinning off its political axis, that the president was isolated even from his own staff and that there was little rhyme or reason behind his increasingly erratic statements.

Trump's often frazzled but loyal press secretary Sean Spicer was even asked in his daily briefing on Friday whether Trump was "out of control."

"That's, frankly, offensive," Spicer said.

Yet, so extreme have been the events of the last few days that such a question -- which many would view as outrageous in more normal times -- didn't seem out of bounds.