How to Torture Trump

Who’s less popular than Elton John?

Let’s be trivial for a minute. Forget our endless supply of critical problems and just try to think of a good way to torture Donald Trump.


Reasoned criticism never works. We have to go down to his level if we want to get his attention. Not by making fun of his hair or his girth or the orangish glow of his face. Deriding people for their looks is beneath us. Besides, he seems so confident he’s a charmer nothing is going to shake him.

If we want to really make him crazy, we ought to start a rumor that he can’t draw a crowd.

You know how obsessed Trump is with this subject. Whenever he holds a rally — which seems to be pretty much every other day — he brags about the enormous number of people thronging in to see him:

“There have never been crowds like this, just so you understand, in the history of politics.”

“This is some record crowd.”

“I’ve broken more Elton John [attendance] records, and I don’t have a musical instrument.”

The other is that Elton John is a way bigger draw.

Trump can’t bear suggestions that he’s not a crowd megamagnet. Every time he gets on a stage, he seems compelled to claim the audience is of epic proportions. The place is packed! Not to mention the masses waiting outside!

Back in February, he did an event in El Paso on the same day Beto O’Rourke was holding his own rally. The one-sided fight over who had the biggest crowd became sort of insane — not to mention sort of phallic. “We have, let’s say, 35,000 people tonight and he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good!” the president of the United States crowed.

The beat-Beto obsession went on and on. O’Rourke, in one of the better moments of his political career, said that analysis “just shows you how sick this guy is.” It also showed how bad Trump is at math — local fire officials said that the capacity of his auditorium was around 6,500, and there were, at the most, 10,000 more people standing outside. O’Rourke had crowd estimates of up to 15,000.

If only there were headlines all around Texas announcing, “Trump Audience Size Disappointing.” Or better yet: “Did Beto Draw Better?” Can you imagine how miserable that would make the commander in chief?

Maybe that’s going too far — despite the president’s complaints to the contrary, the mainstream-media reporters covering him try very hard to be fair. However, we’re in the Opinion section right now. So let’s be catty.

The El Paso crowd became a national issue last week when Trump went to visit the victims of the Walmart shooting while the whole nation wondered if the tragedy was set off by the president’s rants about Mexicans at the border.

None of the patients wanted to see him, so Trump hung out with the staff. Almost instantly, he veered off into a reminiscence about that El Paso rally. “That place was packed. … We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto — Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot,” he burbled.

Nobody was going to challenge Trump’s numbers while standing, perhaps awe-struck, listening to the president of the United States brag about his crowd size in the wake of a terrible mass murder. And nobody was going to ask about it at his next press conference, since there hasn’t been one for more than 900 days.

Even Trump must have discovered that this was going way, way over the deep end. He refrained from saying a whole lot about attendance when he spoke in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. He did peer toward the media section and note that there were “a lot of people” for an 11 a.m. event. It was a point only slightly dulled by the fact that it was 2:42 in the afternoon.

The rally took place on the construction site of a big chemical plant. “It was the Trump administration that made it possible,” the president said of a project that was first announced in 2012. The trip was supposed to be an official White House speech about energy policy. That means you the taxpayer were underwriting his opportunity to brag about

  • his victory margin in 2016 in West Virginia,
  • make fun of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and
  • announce the new numbers from Florida showed his re-election campaign was “looking fantastically good.”

He spoke to a crowd of about 5,000. Analyzing his effort, the reasonable thing to do would be to point out the deep, deep fault lines in his arguments about energy and economics. But you know he’d be oblivious. What if the headlines read “Disappointing Crowd for a Presidential Visit” and the stories focused on the fact that earlier this year in nearby Pittsburgh, Trevor Noah drew a healthy turnout at an arena that seats 12,500?

Not responsible journalism. But maybe it’d shock him into reality. Or at least leave him curled up in bed, sucking his thumb while somebody else ran the government.

Trump is perfecting the art of the Big Lie

But few of these lies were as chilling as the one last week at a fundraiser in Missouri.

The president recounted how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had told him that the U.S. doesn’t have a trade deficit with his country. Trump said he contradicted Trudeau — “Wrong, Justin, you do” — even though “I didn’t even know. … I had no idea.” When Trudeau insisted, “We have no trade deficit,” Trump replied: “I don’t believe it.” He then called in an aide who supposedly told him that the U.S. has no trade deficit with Canada — but only if you don’t count energy and timber. “ ‘And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year,’ ” Trump quoted the aide as saying. “It’s incredible.”

It’s incredible, all right, as in literally not credible. Trump’s own U.S. trade representative reports that the United States has a $12.5 billion trade surplus with Canada, and that includes energy and timber. But Trump didn’t back down: He insisted that his “alternative facts” were superior to actual facts.

.. On Thursday, the president tweeted: “We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive).” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was sent out to do a full Spicer by dutifully saying, without a scintilla of substantiation, that “there are plenty of things, once you take into the full account of all of the trade between the two countries, that show that there is actually a deficit.”

.. this is another example of a would-be dictator’s desire not just to sneak lies by us but to shove them down our throats. Trump is signaling that he doesn’t care what the truth is. From now on the truth will be whatever he says, and he expects every loyal follower to faithfully parrot the official party line. Or else.

.. after Trump’s graceless ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The White House initially claimed that Tillerson had been notified the previous Friday that he was being let go, but on Tuesday Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, contradicted that spin by telling reporters that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his firing and had just found out about it. Goldstein was immediately canned and, in a significant bit of symbolism, replaced with a former host of “Fox & Friends,” Trump’s favorite TV show. Trump is sending a signal that not only does he insist on his right to lie but that he regards telling the truth as a firing offense.

.. Trump’s gloating tweet makes it obvious this was punishment for telling the truth about the Maximum Leader’s attempts to obstruct justice and end an investigation into his links to the Kremlin.

.. As his presidency advances, Trump is becoming increasingly intolerant of disagreement and defiance, especially from aides who know what they are talking about.

  • Gary Cohn tried to tell him that tariffs and trade wars are bad economics; Trump didn’t listen and Cohn resigned.
  • Tillerson tried to tell him that scrapping the Iran nuclear deal is a bad strategy, and now he’s gone. National security adviser
  • H.R. McMaster is saidto be the next candidate for the heave-ho, because he reportedly rubs Trump the wrong way.

.. The frightening thing is that Trump’s insistence on redefining reality is working, at least with his base.

.. The video news site NowThis has posted a hilarious and horrifying clip showing Fox News talking heads hyperventilating over President Barack Obama’s promise to meet with the leaders of hostile states such as North Korea (Mike Huckabee: “President Obama likes talking to dictators!”), before going on to fulsomely praise President Trump for doing just that.

.. Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength.

This new Trump book could do even more damage than Michael Wolff’s. Here’s why.

  • Trump has a tendency to do whatever his advisers most strongly advise him against, and they even have a term for such behavior: his “defiance disorder.”
  • He, out of nowhere, tweeted his decision to ban transgender people from the military before a scheduled meeting with then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss his options on the matter. “Oh my God, he just tweeted this,” Priebus reportedly said.
  • His aides were similarly blindsided by his accusation, also via Twitter, that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump during the presidential campaign.
  • Trump was strongly advised not to dispatch then-press secretary Sean Spicer to dispute stories about Trump’s inaugural crowd size and later admitted, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

.. He wrote a column last month arguing that journalistic mistakes had allowed Trump to “shred the media’s credibility.” He has defended Trump’s Twitter attacks — even ones viewed as being sexist or advocating violence — as responses to the “battering” the president has taken.

.. The fact that the guy who made this argument early in Trump’s presidency is now relaying anecdotes — apparently via anonymous sources — about chaos behind the scenes in the White House should not be lost on anyone.

.. But what is described above is a president who is acting haphazardly and without the guidance of his aides, making major allegations and policy decisions on whims and — in the case of the inaugural crowd episode — deliberately pushing false narratives despite apparently knowing better. The juiciest bit so far appears to be “defiance disorder, “a term that could only arise out of repeated instances of Trump being perceived as acting not in the interest of the country but in the interest of defying those around him and trying to prove that he’s smarter — or that he can get away with things they say he can’t.
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