This was the week Donald Trump became president.
Or at least the week he became the president we were always expecting. He ceased bothering to pretend that he was ever going to do the job in any normal sense of the word. He decided to totally own the whole, entire joke that he is.
He started hiring people right off TV. He extended his tiny fingers into his giant flat screen, “Purple Rose of Cairo”-style, and dragged cable conservatives directly into the administration.
We’ve always known Trump makes stuff up. But now he has stopped bothering to pretend that he doesn’t. Truthful hyperbole is out. Outlandish fabrication is in. Trump began bragging to Republicans at a private fund-raiser in St. Louis Wednesday: Oh, get a load of this trade stuff I made up to outfox that fox, Justin Trudeau. I felt bad doing it to such a nice, good-looking guy. But it’s hilarious!
He is no longer bothering to pretend that governing involves a learning curve. Now he finds it’s clever to be a fabulist, concocting phony facts about the trade deficit when talking to the Canadian prime minister — one of our closest allies — or inventing a story for donors about how Japanese officials test American cars by dropping a bowling ball on their hoods from 20 feet up to see which ones dent.
.. Trump & Friends presented this dizzying White House purge as a twisted version of him growing into the job, even as everyone else felt he was going in the opposite direction
.. Trump got his next moment of gross exaltation when Jeff Sessions, frantically trying to save his own job, fired Andrew McCabe hours before he became eligible for his government pension and on his birthday weekend. John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, tweeted that Trump will take his “rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.” Then the president’s lawyer, John Dowd, issued a statement Saturday saying he will “pray” that Rod Rosenstein “will follow the brilliant and courageous example” of Sessions and end the Russia investigation entirely.
Trump is giddy about all the CHAOS — he capitalized it on Twitter — feeling that he’s ridding himself of any idiots who called him a moron or dumb as a rock and any economists who don’t understand what a great dealmaker he is... It’s the final Foxification of politics. Trump spends all his time watching Fox News, basing his opinions and tweets on it, and now he’s simply becoming one with it. He is even willing to overlook his distaste for the yeti mustache of the warmongering John Bolton and consider the Fox News analyst as a replacement for McMaster.
Roger Ailes would be so proud, if he were still alive and harassing women.
.. Trump thinks he’s a fabulously devious manager creating “great energy,” with great ratings coming from his talent for theatrical twists and turns. But he’s really inhumane, playing people against one another and widely discussing successors for officials who haven’t even been officially informed that they’re walking the plank. And, far from the A-team he promised, he’s hired a bunch of pathetic, disgusting swamp schnorrers who can’t stop using taxpayer money to fund their office furniture or office redesign or luxury plane trips with their wives.
“I like conflict,” Trump said this month at a press conference with the Swedish prime minister, smacking his fists together and adding, “I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it’s the best way to go.”
Never mind that a lot of the country — and the world — craves stability.
.. “I think Trump is royally pissed about the Mueller subpoena of the Trump Organization records,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio says about the special counsel crossing the president’s red line. “He fears the nakedness of his true business activities being revealed far more than the shame of ‘Access Hollywood’ or Stormy Daniels. Unlike the show of blank paper in file folders conducted when he supposedly stepped away from his businesses, this will require real documents, and I doubt he can count on people lying for him.”
The president thrives on conflict and runs his White House as if he were the producer of a television show, placing characters in situations pumped up with tension and setting up tantalizing cliffhangers to keep viewers tuning in.
.. Although the idea of imposing tariffs on some imports was cheered at Trump’s campaign rallies, Republican lawmakers and members of his administration have argued that instituting penalties on steel and aluminum could prompt other countries to impose retaliatory tariffs that hurt American farmers, producers and manufacturers, including in states that were key to the president’s unexpected win in 2016.
.. “We have a very big meeting at 3:30,” Trump said. “I’d call it an economic meeting, something we have to do to protect our steel, our aluminum in our country.”
.. Trump wouldn’t say exactly what he had planned, but promised that it would be “very fair” and also “very flexible.” As reporters shouted out questions, the president confirmed that he would implement the tariff numbers
.. “I’ll have a right to go up or down, depending on the country, and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries,” Trump said. “We just want fairness. Because we have not been treated fairly by other countries.”
.. Trump briefly mentioned the specifics of the new tariffs, but he mostly spoke longingly about the golden days of U.S. manufacturing and criticized countries like China and Japan for their “aggressive” practices.
“Our factories were left to rot, and to rust all over the place,” Trump said at one point. “Thriving communities turned into ghost towns. . . . The workers who poured their souls into building this great nation were betrayed, but that betrayal is now over.”
.. Trump asked some of the workers to speak. A worker from Kentucky said the tariffs would allow his plant to run at 100 percent capacity instead of 40 percent. Sauritch, the union leader from the Pittsburgh area, spoke emotionally about his father, Herman, losing his job in the 1980s because of an increase in imports.
“Well, your father Herman is looking down” from heaven, Trump said. “He’s very proud of you right now.”
But unlike the Godfather character, the president of the United States is backed by powerful people enabling him.
.. The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.
.. Until now, Trump’s worst moments have occurred behind closed doors, and have become known to the public only second-hand, leaked by worried officials, aides, and advisers. Yesterday and today, we have seen a Trump temper-tantrum in real time on Twitter
.. the most important moment in Wolff’s book are words attributed at second or third-hand to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time of Donald Trump’s election. “He will sign anything we put in front of him.”
.. Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades.
- Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist.
- Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host.
- Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate.
- Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn’s repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime.
.. Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.
The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.
.. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.
.. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
.. the important thing about Trump is not the man; it’s the system of power surrounding the man.
.. What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway.
Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him;
conservative media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the cultural wars he provokes;
rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country... he is indeed the “very stable genius” he claims to be: Trump understands how to mobilize hatred and resentment to his own advantage and profit. He has risen higher than Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh or Theodore Bilbo—and he has lasted already nearly a full year in office, holding the approval of one-third of the country
.. without the complicity of other power-holders, Trump would drop from his central position like a tooth from a rotten gum. What we need to do now is widen the camera angle beyond Fredo Trump to the hard-faced men and women over his shoulders. Those are the people who put Trump where he is, and keep him there, corrupting the institutions of American democracy and troubling the peace and security of the world.
He’s aware of the storylines, and he reacts to various challenges to his authority as if they’re just weird turns the producers came up with behind the scenes. This should come as no surprise. This is how you win in reality TV, a format Trump is eminently comfortable in.
.. Hatch gleefully styled himself as the contestant you loved to hate and invented reality TV as we know it. The producers were only too happy to follow along.
.. Hatch invented the alliance — the voting bloc that would carry a contestant to the finals. He double-crossed others with impunity. And he generally seemed to get a huge kick out of behaving like a total asshole on TV. Hatch understood, on some intuitive level, that we wanted to see people give in to their own worst, most amoral impulses on our TV sets, and where he went, reality TV followed. Reality TV wasn’t for the nice or pure of heart. It was for the nasty, and in that first season, Hatch alone seemed to grasp this... What’s also notable here is the way Hatch drew to himself a coalition of people who wouldn’t necessarily have kept company with him in other situations, simply because he rarely blinked and seemed like he knew what he was doing in a most unusual situation... Richard was the one guy who seemed like he could see the whole picture, simply because he didn’t let things throw him, and that caused others to gravitate toward him, even as they were fairly certain he would stab them in the back eventually... Watch again, if you can, Trump’s confrontation with Megyn Kelly over his previous misogynistic statements. Try to ignore, if possible, how horrible those statements are. Instead, focus entirely on how Trump carries himself... For starters, Trump doesn’t shrink from Kelly’s challenge. He stays ramrod straight at the podium, and he doesn’t shift or move around. That’s pretty basic stuff, but you’d be surprised how many politicians who are under the gun forget all about it.Now notice how he uses his hands. His gestures are kept close to his body, so they don’t fly out too far from the audience’s attention or distract from the speaker at hand. He’s essentially keeping the center of the screen focused entirely on him, even when the Fox News chyron pushes him into the left half of the screen. This is, again, something politicians know to do (keeping your gestures small and forceful conveys control over your own emotions),
.. But also look at how good Trump is at sliding what he wants to say in between what Kelly is saying. He holds up a single finger, the universal symbol of “My turn.” He waits for just the right pause to jump in. And he doesn’t let Kelly continuing to speak deter him. He knows exactly how to do this, because, in so many ways, Trump is just back on reality television at this moment. If anything, he makes Kelly seem like she’s out of control of the situation, on a night when Kelly’s performance was generally very good. And that’s to say nothing of how quickly he comes up with this little quip to turn the audience to his side.
.. NBC actually promoted The Apprentice in this way for years. You won’t believe what Trump does next! But despite his frequently strange decisions, he rarely was ridden down as out of touch. Part of that is the simple suspicion most of us have that reality TV is heavily controlled by the producers (and thus Trump was as well). But just as much is due to the fact that Trump held court in the boardroom in a way that made everything he did, no matter how out there, seem like a perfectly logical decision... We have a tendency to write off reality TV in America as lowest-common-denominator entertainment, because a lot of it is. But the specific storytelling forms and cinematic tricks of reality have more or less become central parts of our current cultural vernacular. Is it any wonder they’ve entered politics as well?.. The usual way to deal with something like what Kelly accuses Trump of is quick contrition, followed by a pivot to a talking point or two... But Trump is, as Ezra Klein has noted, without shame, because he’s a reality TV character who’s escaped into a presidential race. He avoids the contrition and jumps straight to whatever he wants to talk about... As we saw with Richard Hatch, unflappability plays beautifully on television, and it makes for wildly entertaining viewing. The contents of Trump’s message are loathsome to many, including many Republicans, but the package Trump is selling them in is market-tested and ready to ship. Compared with many of his competitors, especially, Trump seems to be playing at a whole other level when it comes to live television... But, then, the smart money in that first season of Survivor was on the fellow members of Richard’s alliance realizing he didn’t have their best interests at heart and tossing him overboard — and that simply never happened... On television, never look for the person who’s playing the game best. Look for the person who’s realized the rules are only a suggestion. That’s the person the audience wants to watch — and that’s the person who just might win.