This wasn’t supposed to happen. The polls said this wasn’t going to happen – but Donald Trump certainly is the president. In his most recent press conference he said he won in the largest Electoral College victory in recent history. A reporter pointed out that wasn’t so. He had the figures. Trump backtracked. He was only talking about Republican presidents. The reporter pointed out that wasn’t so either. Trump backtracked again. He had been told that. Someone said that. He said it didn’t matter. He was president, so sit down and shut up.
That was unpleasant, but no more unpleasant than Trump’s repeated claim that he actually won the popular vote, even if the official and certified tallies show he lost the popular vote, by almost three million votes. No one’s with him on that, but he’s said he’s forming a commission to prove that three to five million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton – every damned one of them – the worst case of voter fraud in history. His vice president, Mike Pence, is to head that commission.
They have yet to meet. They may never meet, and his Republican Congress has said that they’ll pay for no such thing. They want to repeal Obamacare, somehow, without doing too much damage, and lower taxes on the wealthy, the job creators, and deregulate the financial system, and most everything else, and do something about abortion, and gays, and probably something about people who don’t accept Jesus as theirf personal savior. They’re busy. They don’t have time for Trump’s nonsense. They try to say that as nicely as possible.
Al Franken, the Democratic senator, has said his Republican colleagues in the Senate have told him they worry about Trump’s mental health – off the record of course. They dare not say that in public. Trump would end each of their careers with one of his classic tweetstorms. His voters would then end their careers. Say nothing. Trump might well be might mentally ill (as in quite crazy) – but that notion is both a bit dangerous and a bit silly – no one should diagnose at a distance, particularly angry amateurs, and even Lincoln suffered from what we’d now call clinical depression. He called it melancholia and he did just fine.
Donald Trump doesn’t have that problem. Clinical depression requires self-awareness. Too much of that will drive you crazy. Too little of that – what Jonathan Swift called “the perpetual possession of being well-deceived” – is another matter. There’s a name for that too – Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A large panel of perhaps unethical psychiatrists – diagnosing a man they never met – has decided that seems to be the problem here – but one of them notes that there are no good options when it comes to dealing with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.
That’s a serious mental illness, or the guy’s just a pain in the ass. He’s functional but he’s difficult. Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports on those difficulties – on the methods used by Trump’s staffers to manipulate what might be called his delicate and damaged psyche:
President Donald Trump’s former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.
The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up – and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.
“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg. “The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.”
This takes some strange turns:
Staff members had one advantage as they aimed to manage candidate Trump’s media diet: He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers – especially his go-to, The New York Times – and reading material his staff brought to his desk. Indeed, his media consumption habits were on full display during his roller-coaster news conference this past Thursday, when he continually remarked on what the media would write “tomorrow,” even as print outlets’ websites already had posted stories about his remarks…
Trump is also, however, a near-nonstop consumer of cable news, and his staff’s efforts were not always enough to keep Trump from tweeting on topics that were far from his campaign’s core message. Throughout the campaign, whatever messaging the candidate’s staff had planned was continually accompanied – and often overshadowed – by a string of feuds that played out both on and off Twitter.
But his team believed that its strategies would keep Trump from taking to his preferred social media outlet to escalate his personal or political conflicts.
They’d plant stories on Fox News, or at least request certain emphases, and carefully filter his reading material:
One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And if Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say…
During another damage control mission, when former Miss Universe Alicia Machado took to the airwaves to call out Trump for calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” the communications team scrambled to place a story in conservative friendly outlets like Fox News, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller and Breitbart.
They feed him those “alternative facts” to keep him from ruining himself, but still, he surfs cable television for hours, a habit that can feed the problem:
Leaving him alone for several hours can prove damaging, because he consumes too much television and gripes to people outside the White House.
But there may be a reason for that:
Part of the current problem is Trump is still adjusting to his new circumstances and has plenty of time to stew over negative reviews as he spends time alone in the evenings and early mornings as his wife, Melania Trump, continues living in New York while his youngest son, Barron, finishes the school year.
Imagine an angry defensive old man, up late at night, shouting at the television alone in his room, and then taking to Twitter. That may not be mental illness, but it is kind of sad. His staff has had to deal with that. They’re doing their best. It’s for his own good and perhaps ours. One angry tweet could end the world as we know it.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be dangerous, and Ezra Klein argues that Donald Trump is dangerous when he’s losing:
In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I spoke to top liberals terrified that Trump would outflank them, and quickly. If he had given a conciliatory inaugural address, named some compromise candidates to key posts, filled his administration with competent veterans of government, and began his term by working on an infrastructure bill that Chuck Schumer could support, he would be at or above 60 percent in the polls, the media would be covering him positively, and the Democratic Party would be split between those who wanted to work with Trump and those who wanted to resist everything he did. In that world, Trump might be a big fan of America’s political institutions right now.
Liberals aren’t afraid Trump will outflank them anymore. He launched his presidency with a series of speeches, appointments, and executive orders that have made him radioactive among congressional Democrats. He’s running an understaffed, inexperienced government even as he provokes our enemies and alienates our friends. Trump is burning both political capital and time. It is significantly less likely now than it was a month ago that he will be able to replace Obamacare or pass a tax reform bill.
That’s good news for Democrats but also inherently dangerous:
This is the hard part about failure in American politics: It feeds on itself, perpetuates itself. Trump’s low poll numbers make it harder for him to win Democratic support on, well, anything. The inability to get anything done feeds his low poll numbers. The same goes for how Trump runs his White House. The Trump administration is a chaotic, leaky place, and that leads to negative press coverage of the Trump White House, which leads to more chaos and leaks as scared aides try to push blame for the disaster onto their rivals.
It is easy to imagine Trump, in a year, cornered in his own White House, furious at the manifold enemies he blames for his failures, and cocooned within an ever-smaller and more radical group of staffers and media outlets that tell him what he wants to hear and feed his grievances and resentments.
That’s the most vicious of cycles. It ends with someone babysitting the mad king. Things do go bad after all, and Jen Kirby notes one of those things:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly are headed to Mexico Wednesday. Things are still a little awkward as America tries to mend its relationship with its southern neighbor, but the White House might have made it that much harder with the release of sweeping new immigration memos.
Because, according to Reuters, Mexico is pissed. “I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other,” Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Videgaray told reporters.
He added that, “We are not going to accept it because there is no reason why we should – it is not in Mexico’s interest.”
Trump will not get his way:
Videgaray was reportedly objecting to a section of the immigration memo that would allow for federal agents to send undocumented immigrants at the border back across to Mexico, even if that’s not their country of origin. Immigration to the U.S. from other Latin American countries, such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras has spiked in recent years with asylum-seekers fleeing violence, so that could be a not-insignificant number of deportations. Mexican officials say this issue will now dominate the talks especially since, based on the memo, such a policy change would likely require cooperation on Mexico’s part. (It also doesn’t seem as if the United States gave Mexico too much of a heads-up about this provision.) Another Mexican official told ProPublica: “It’s a non-starter. I don’t see a scenario in which Mexico accepts this solely because an executive order from the United States says so.”
Enter the babysitter, Sean Spicer at his press briefing when asked about this – “No. The relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now.”
That’s what you tell the boss to keep him from firing off another angry disastrous tweet – because the boss watches these press briefings, and everything else. He has the time. Humor him.
Spicer knows what to do:
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday that a wave of angry protests at town hall events in recent days was partly the result of a “professional protester manufactured base.”
During a press briefing, one reporter asked Spicer about a tweet from President Donald Trump Tuesday night, which said “some” of the rowdy town halls were the result of “liberal activists.”
“I think there’s a hybrid there,” between manufactured anger and real concern, Spicer said.
“I think some people are clearly upset but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there. Obviously there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, that it is not a representation of a member’s district or an incident,” he said.
“It is a loud, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention, no offense. It’s just I think that’s – just because they’re loud doesn’t necessarily mean that there are many, and I think in a lot of cases that’s what you’re seeing.”
Plant that story:
Earlier this month, Spicer agreed with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, who asked if protestors were being paid.
“Protesting has become a profession now,” he said.
Trump was watching, but there were other things to watch:
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was greeted at a town hall Tuesday in Iowa with a shouted question about “impeachment” as voters there and at other events across the country pressed lawmakers about the moves and goals of President Donald Trump’s administration.
“I am so unsettled. It feels like we have a juvenile running our country,” Doug Thompson, a Democrat and farmer from Kanawha, told Grassley at an event in Garner. Grassley outlined the process but didn’t give his opinion.
In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back at around 1,000 anti-Trump protesters who showed up outside his event, telling a crowd of business leaders inside that “winners make policy and the losers go home.”
And in Maquoketa, Iowa, members of a crowd booed and chanted “do your job!” at Republican Sen. Joni Ernst near the end of a roundtable, NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines reported.
In Tennessee, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was asked about the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, whom the questioner referred to as a “white supremacist.” Bannon has said he isn’t a racist or a white nationalist. Another woman demanded that Trump be required to release his tax returns. Both were met with applause.
“As a member of the House, we don’t have the ability to make that requirement,” said Blackburn, who represents a district between Memphis and Nashville. “He does have to file, and he has filed all the paperwork that is necessary with the Federal Election Commission, and he has done that.”
Some of the most contentious moments came after Blackburn was asked about the qualifications of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary. When the senator said, “I think Ms. DeVos is going to be a fine secretary,” she was met with boos.
“You have to do better than this. We are not stupid!” a woman in the crowd said.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz was booed several times at a town hall in Utah this month and struggled to be heard.
“Come on, we’re better than this,” Chaffetz protested at a Salt Lake City event, practically pleading with the deafening crowd to let him speak.
In Florida, a crowd of several hundred turned hostile during an event with Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis earlier this month. In California, chapters of the group Indivisible pressured Republican Rep. Paul Cook to hold a town hall — even creating “missing” stickers to slap onto milk cartons.
Meanwhile, back in Iowa:
Grassley’s town hall Tuesday in Iowa Falls mirrored events in 2009, which Grassley engaged in as Democrats mulled over the proposed legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act.
At one of those town halls, Grassley propped up fears about alleged “death panels” that many Republicans claimed would be included in the law.
But on Tuesday, Chris Petersen, a pig farmer from Clearwater, turned to Grassley and asserted that he would own the creation of “death panels” if he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, suggesting that the senator was prepared to cut health care insurance for millions of Americans.
“Sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panels,” said Petersen, the former president of a farmers’ union in the state. “We’re going to create one big death panel in this country that people can’t afford to get insurance.”
Petersen, who won applause from almost everyone in the room, offered Grassley a container of Tums, the antacid tablets. “You’re going to need them the next few years,” he said. “People are disappointed.”
Grassley told reporters afterward that Trump’s presidency hadn’t warranted any reliance on the heartburn and gas relief drug.
That was humor, perhaps, but there are hundreds of these stories. Trump’s staff will have a hard time keeping them from him, and then there’s Jonathan Swift, the 1710 Edition of “A Tale of a Tub” and specifically Section IX: A Digression Concerning the Original, The Use, and Improvement of Madness in a Commonwealth:
For, if we take an examination of what is generally understood by happiness, as it has respect either to the understanding or the senses, we shall find all its properties and adjuncts will herd under this short definition, that it is a perpetual possession of being well-deceived.
Section IX is known at the Digression on Madness:
This is the sublime and refined point of felicity, called, the possession of being well deceived; the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves.
Who’s the fool? Trump? Who’s the chief knave? Steve Bannon?
There’s nothing new here. Stephen Colbert got to the same place in 2005 when he invented the word Truthiness – named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster, to Colbert’s delight:
Now I’m sure some of the “word police” – the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s – are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen.
Colbert was onto something. The word was useful for describing the political advantages fiction has over truth, a one-word compression of what Swift had said. Some things feel true so they must be true, because your gut tells you so, in spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary – but that was long ago and aimed at George Bush. Still, that seems to describe Trump voters, and the man himself.
It’s Trump’s world now, except that it isn’t, as Aaron Blake reports here:
It’s pretty clear what President Trump is doing by going after the media. He sees someone who is tough on him, with a lower approval rating, and he sets up a contrast. It’s like making yourself look taller by standing next to a short person.
“You have a lower approval rate than Congress,” he needled reporters at last week’s news conference, making clear he had done the math.
Except maybe it’s not really working.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth.
The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority – 52 percent – picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump.
Trump won’t win this one:
Trump may have gone a little too far by proclaiming the media the “enemy of the American people.” A 2013 Pew poll showed broad, bipartisan support for the media’s role as a watchdog of politicians. Fully two-thirds of Republicans, Democrats and independents said the press keeps political leaders from doing things they shouldn’t.
And they may also know a mad king when they see one. He tweets. His babysitters do what they can to keep him from tweeting again. He could get us all killed – but yes, he is the president. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It just did.