The flood of bizarre pronouncements and behavior from President Trump is likely to get worse, I fear. He is now completely unfiltered; and, apparently, increasingly untethered to reality.
Quick, can you name the White House press secretary? Do you have any idea what she looks or sounds like? Stephanie Grisham has held that job for nearly two months now, but if her name doesn’t ring any bells, it’s because she hasn’t yet given a single official press briefing. Trump has foolishly decided to act as his own exclusive spokesman, putting all his prejudices, misconceptions, resentments, insecurities, grudges and fears on ugly display.
The result is what we witnessed Wednesday on the White House lawn. On his way to the waiting Marine One chopper, Trump paused and took questions from reporters for 35 minutes, unfazed by the midday 89-degree heat and smothering humidity. He made much news and little sense.
When he looked to the sky and proclaimed that “I am the chosen one,” he was clearly referring to his trade war with China. But you had to wonder whether his egomania, which we’re accustomed to, may have blossomed into full-scale delusions of grandeur.
Again and again, he tried desperately to compare himself favorably with his predecessor, Barack Obama. He did so by telling ridiculous lies that are easily disproved by the historical record: No, Obama didn’t institute the cruel policy of separating thousands of migrant families at the border, Trump did; no, Obama wasn’t denied permission to land Air Force One in the Philippines. You had to wonder whether Trump, who was the loudest voice in the racist “birther” movement, might have some kind of obsession with Obama and his continuing popularity around the world.
Trump said he canceled his planned state visit to Denmark because the Danish prime minister was “nasty” in calling Trump’s desire to purchase Greenland “absurd.” It is absurd, of course, but leave that aside. It happens that Obama is scheduled to visit Denmark in September. Might Trump have feared that he would be met with protests and then have to watch Obama bask in the adulation of much bigger crowds?
We also heard Trump repeat and amplify his offensive claim that American Jews who vote for Democrats are being “disloyal” to Israel. The notion of dual loyalty is a vile anti-Semitic trope that goes back centuries. Does Trump think dredging it up somehow helps him politically? Or is it one of a host of deep-seated ethnic and racial stereotypes that he now blurts out because no one is empowered to stop him?
If the president seems to be spiraling out of control, it’s no doubt because he’s frantically worried about losing his bid for reelection; but also because the insulation that once surrounded him has been stripped bare.
Insider accounts of the Trump White House have spoken of the rages, obsessions, fixations and biases that spill out of the president behind closed doors. But there were officials in place who could temper his rashest impulses. For a time, former chief of staff John Kelly even managed to establish some measure of control over the flow of information to and from the president; a necessity for any administration to be able to set priorities and follow through on them.
But Kelly is gone, along with everyone else who had the stature, experience and courage to at least try to make this mess into a functional presidency. The information flow? Now it’s whatever Trump watches on Fox News — or hate-watches on CNN or MSNBC — and immediately tweets about.
Trump’s most influential remaining adviser is Stephen Miller, the anti-immigration zealot who survives by applauding and reinforcing Trump’s worst instincts. When Trump said Wednesday that the administration wants to end birthright citizenship (which the Constitution guarantees), everyone could guess where that was coming from.
Cabinet members are like the guy in the parade who walks behind the elephant with a broom and dustpan. After Trump abruptly canceled his trip to Denmark, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hurried to offer words of reassurance to the Danish foreign minister. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a strident budget hawk his entire career, has apparently just given up as the deficit soars toward $1 trillion.
The nation and the world need a competent, capable White House, but won’t have one anytime soon. Instead, we’ve got a teetotaling president who sounds like the angry guy at the end of the bar, mouthing off about whatever he sees when he looks up at the television. Closing time can’t come fast enough.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.