Hey, if you're going to be a master of deception, might as well be a good one, right Donald Trump?
Also see earlier post—Spinmaster in Chief's First Hundred Days II.Read on.
On the first day of his second hundred days in office, Donald Trump visited familiar terrain: Trump National Golf Club, in Sterling, Virginia. According to Mark Knoller, a White House correspondent for CBS News, it was the twentieth visit that Trump has made to one his golf clubs in Florida or Virginia since his swearing-in. In all likelihood, Trump thought that he deserved a few hours on the links after all his exertions trying to put a positive spin on three months of chaos, bluster, sabre-rattling, and the trashing of historical norms.
At the end of last week, Trump gave a series of media interviews, during which he exhibited anew his distant and contingent relationship with reality and the truth. On Saturday, he flew to Harrisburg, in western Pennsylvania, where he delivered a campaign-style address that CNN’s David Gergen, who has served in four different White Houses, described as “the most divisive speech I have ever heard a sitting President give.”
Some people who watched Trump’s dystopian Inaugural Address might quibble with Gergen’s assessment, but his point stands. And if there was anybody suffering under the illusion that Trump might actually have learned something from the setbacks he has encountered since January 20th, or that he might have decided to embrace a less confrontational approach, Saturday’s speech served as a useful corrective. To misquote Gertrude Stein, “Trump is a Trump is a Trump is a Trump.”
Standing before a backdrop of supporters carrying signs that read “PROMISES MADE. PROMISES KEPT,” Trump spent much of his speech doing what he has done many times before: boasting about his election victory, berating his enemies in the “fake news” media and the Democratic Party, whipping up nativism and nationalism among his supporters, and promising to restore a lost world in which white working-class Americans of limited education can get good jobs that last a lifetime.
Despite his low approval ratings and lack of any significant legislative victories, Trump insisted that his revanchist project is on track. The only reason that this fact isn’t more broadly acknowledged, he said, is that the members of the Washington media won’t report the truth. “Their priorities are not my priorities, and they are not your priorities, believe me,” he said of his media tormentors. “They are all part of a global system that has profited from this global theft and plunder of American wealth at the expense of the worker.”
Turning to “some of our great achievements from the first hundred days,” he took credit for getting Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs—including ninety-nine thousand construction jobs, forty-four thousand manufacturing jobs, and twenty-seven thousand mining jobs. (“We love our miners,” he said twice.)
Of course, the economy has been creating jobs at a steady rate since the Obama Administration. But Trump long ago granted himself the privilege to rewrite history. “Believe me, the previous Administration gave us a mess,” he said, affecting a look of disgust. On this occasion, he didn’t mention Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton by name, but he did find time to vilify Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, whose coöperation the White House will almost certainly need to get any legislation of lasting substance passed on issues like health care, taxes, and infrastructure. Trump called Schumer “a bad leader” who “is weak on crime and wants to raise your taxes through the roof.”
If there was a single conciliatory note in Trump’s speech, it was reserved for Xi Jinping, the President of China, whom Trump credited with trying to resolve the North Korea nuclear standoff. “He’s representing China, not representing us,” Trump conceded. “But he’s a good man. And I believe he wants to get that situation take care of. They have tremendous power, and we’ll see what happens.”
If you want Trump to say something nice about you, it helps enormously if you are an authoritarian leader. Now that the continuing investigations into Russian interference in the election have forced him to be more reticent about exalting the virtues of Vladimir Putin, Trump is evidently seeking out other soul mates. On Saturday, he invited Rodrigo Duterte, the brutish President of the Philippines, who human-rights groups have accused of presiding over hundreds or thousands of extrajudicial killings in a drug war, to visit Washington.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Trump even had some complimentary things to say about North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, who is widely regarded as unstable. Noting that Kim had acceded to power at a young age and asserted his control over his generals and other family members, Trump said, “So, obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie. But we have a situation that we just cannot let—we cannot let what’s been going on for a long period of years continue.”
One situation that will continue, it seems, is Trump’s inability to take responsibility for any failures or mistakes on his part. When CBS’s John Dickerson asked him, “What do you know now on day one hundred that you wish you knew on day one of the Presidency?” Trump replied, “Well, one of the things that I’ve learned is how dishonest the media is.” Pressed by Dickerson on whether there was anything else he’d picked up, he said, “Well, I think things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you’d like them to go . . . . It’s just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and in particular the rules in the Senate are unbelievably archaic and slow moving.”
This comment jibed with something Trump said in an interview last week with Reuters, when he complained that, “This is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” Trump seems to have entered the Oval Office blissfully unaware of how the American political system works, or of the fact that the Founding Fathers purposefully placed strict limits on the power of the Presidency. Since January 20th, Congress and the judiciary have taught him some harsh lessons, and it’s clear he hasn’t enjoyed them. To Dickerson, he went so far as to claim that the system was “unfair—in many cases, you’re forced to make deals that are not the deal you’d make.”
With more than thirteen hundred days left in his term, Trump might consider trying to get a better deal by reaching out to some of his adversaries. But if he’s at all interested in going down this route, he didn’t give any hint of it over the weekend. Instead, he promised to step up the war on much of what his opponents hold sacred.
On a weekend when tens of thousands of participants in the People’s Climate March were descending on the White House, Trump lit into the “one-sided Paris climate accord,” claiming that the United States pays billions of dollars while countries like China, Russia, and India “have contributed, and will contribute, nothing.” (The deal that his new friend President Xi struck with former President Obama last September must be yet another thing that escaped Trump’s attention.) He went on: “I’ll be making a big decision on the Paris accord over the next two weeks, and we will see what happens.” That, we will.