Alan Zendell, August 23, 2017
The past two days tell us all we need to know about the Trump presidency. On Monday he gave a speech at a military base in Virginia to lay out his policy on Afghanistan. On Tuesday he held a boisterous, populist re-election campaign rally in Phoenix. We saw two distinct versions of Donald Trump that reinforced everything we already knew about him.
In Virginia we saw the disciplined teleprompter Trump read a carefully crafted speech, though it was clearly not the speech his team wanted him to deliver. It was supposed to be about getting out of the quagmire of a sixteen year war whose cost is now in the trillions, not counting the personal cost to American families, with nothing positive to show for it. But anyone who’s been paying attention to this presidency could read the subtext Trump demanded beneath the main message.
He spent the first five minutes trying to repair his image on bigotry and race relations and the last five telling his military audience how wonderful they were. That last part might have been appropriate if it hadn’t been laid on so thick that it became saccharine to the point of being embarrassing, more so because of the lengths Trump himself went to, to avoid military service. And throughout, you could almost hear another voice saying, “Look how presidential I can be.”
To be fair, he pulled it off pretty well, and if there hadn’t been a clear sense of an invisible leash around his neck forcing him to behave, it would have been believable. His stiff body language was like a little boy forced to dress up for church pulling at his collar. So it was no surprise that little boy Donald discarded his presidential persona as soon as he could and headed for Phoenix, despite most of the political establishment, including that city’s mayor asking him not to. Nothing, not even the solar eclipse of the century could have kept the narcissistic Donald from getting his ego fix.
Donald Trump is an addict. Without the cheering crowds like the one in Phoenix he wouldn’t be able to function at all. Like any good reality TV star he’s a master of illusion, which in his case includes self-delusion. Pack a few thousand true believers into a crowded convention center, throw them lots of red meat to feed their baser instincts, and Donald can believe for a couple of hours that everyone else thinks he’s as wonderful as he does. That’s what Tuesday’s rally in Phoenix was about, and it was a sickening thing to watch for anyone who cares about the institution of the American presidency.
Back was the Trump who congratulated himself on being the most productive president in history aside from having nothing to show for his campaign promises except a slam dunk Supreme Court appointment which had been greased by the Republican-controlled Senate. Back was the candidate Trump who never met a fact he couldn’t distort or outright fabricate. Back was the classless buffoon that makes most of America cringe. And back was the self-made caricature of a man not even remotely suited to hold the office, showing us in living color how he got there.
All this while his presidency continues to unravel, on a day when the normally staid Senate Majority Leader let it be known that he doubted it was salvageable. And a week after Bob Corker, one of the most solid conservative pillars of the Senate, publicly doubted both the president’s competence and stability. It was all summed up this morning by former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who questioned Trump’s fitness as president and described his access to the nuclear codes as “pretty damn scary.” He painted a frightening picture, saying that if Trump, in a fit of pique, decided to use nukes to take out Kim Jong Un, there wouldn’t be much anyone could do to stop him.
Trump has been deserted by the business community who were supposed to be his allies in search of greater profits and lower taxes. His approval numbers drop every week, and in the three states he most likes to brag about, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, only a third of the people approve of his behavior and significantly more than half describe him as an embarrassment. How could it be otherwise when our president cannot appreciate how the spectacle of events like his Phoenix rally diminish his office and cause most of the country to shake their heads in dis belief?
How did we come to this? Those of us who complacently sat back and watched it happen, those who chose not to vote for either candidate, and those who voted for him because he promised to fix a broken political system know. We let the showman/poseur fool us once. Shame on us if he fools us twice.