Sullen and Spiteful is not the name of a law firm specializing in suing those who really irritate their clients, for millions of dollars in damages that can’t quite be specified. No, those two words describe President Trump at the moment. Well, actually, those two words describe President Trump’s lifelong posture toward everything. Life is grievance. Grab what you can and get even with anyone who even thinks of crossing you. Hit back ten times harder. And trust no one. That’s how one should live one’s life.
There’s that new book about that from his niece, who has known him forever and happens to be a clinical psychologist too. But that’s about the past. That was then, and as the Washington Posts’ team of Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report, this is now:
Callers on President Trump in recent weeks have come to expect what several allies and advisers describe as a “woe-is-me” preamble.
The president rants about the deadly coronavirus destroying “the greatest economy,” one he claims to have personally built. He laments the unfair “fake news” media, which he vents never gives him any credit. And he bemoans the “sick, twisted” police officers in Minneapolis, whose killing of an unarmed black man in their custody provoked the nationwide racial justice protests that have confounded the president.
Gone, say these advisers and confidants, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations, are the usual pleasantries and greetings.
Instead, Trump often launches into a monologue placing him at the center of the nation’s turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim – of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.
He was ambushed! And there’s nothing he can do! It’s not fair! So of course he lashes out:
Trump put his self-victimization on public display Thursday in response to a Supreme Court ruling rejecting his claim of absolute immunity and permitting a New York prosecutor to see the president’s private and business financial records.
Trump reacted with a social media meltdown, writing on Twitter, “PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT!” and “POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” He wrote that the decision was “Not fair to this Presidency” and claimed that “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”
This qualifies as sullen and spiteful, the usual from him, but maybe worse than ever now:
Trump has always exhibited a healthy ego and his self-victimization tendencies are not a new phenomenon, according to those who have known him over the years. But those characteristics have been especially pronounced this summer, revealing themselves almost daily in everything from private conversations to public tweets as the pandemic continues to upend daily life across America and threaten the president’s political fortunes.
Trump’s sense of victimhood strikes even some allies as particularly incongruous considering the devastation wrought by the pandemic and the pain and anguish apparent in Black Lives Matter protests.
They seem to have been hinting to him, gently, that all these people dying are not dying in order to make him look bad, on purpose. They can’t help it. Cut them some slack. In fact, cut everyone some slack:
More than 130,000 Americans so far have died of the novel coronavirus, with more than 3 million cases reported. Nearly 43 million Americans – more than a quarter of the labor force – have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. And the nation is riven not just by protests following the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis police custody, but also by a president who has deliberately stoked racial animus.
Even those in Trump’s orbit are trying to nudge him toward a sunnier, less egocentric approach to the crises he is facing, fearing that his sullen demeanor could backfire politically. Among those internally who have advocated a more optimistic tone are Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to one senior administration official.
They don’t think he can win in November with what he has been shouting to America – All you people are trying to make look bad, but you’ll get yours, you just wait! You’ll be sorry!
That’s not a winning message, but they know he’ll not change a thing, so the best they can do is to try to cheer him up:
Other top White House advisers – including Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino – have also sought to buttress Trump’s mood with events they thought he would enjoy, such as celebrating truckers by bringing 18-wheelers onto the White House South Lawn in mid-April or creating social media videos that feature throngs of his adoring fans, according to aides.
Advisers also have sought to boost Trump’s mood by presenting him internal polling that shows him in a better position than public surveys, which universally show him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Toy trucks help. Fake polls help. No they don’t:
Jen Psaki, former communications director in the Obama White House, agreed with private assessments that the president’s complaining could be costly.
“I don’t think he has many sympathetic ears to his claims that he’s been mistreated,” Psaki said. “Leadership, as we’ve seen at many moments in history, is about not only accepting adulation when you do something great but also accepting responsibility. That lack of accepting responsibility is seen as a lack of leadership and that doesn’t sit well with people who might be more open to supporting him again.”
At times, though, Trump can’t seem to help himself, said people who have spoken with him in recent weeks, describing him as shellshocked and sullen about his declining fortunes even as he continues to insist he will ultimately win in November.
“We had the greatest economy in the world,” Trump said in an Oval Office meeting last month, talking about how good the statistics were before the coronavirus, said one adviser. An outside adviser in frequent touch with the White House offered a similar recollection, saying that Trump simply keeps on repeating, “I had this great economy and they made me shut it down.”
So stop bitching and fix it! Don’t expect that. Expect more of this:
The president’s mood had improved as he focused on the fight over whether to rename or tear down statues named after Confederate generals and other controversial historical figures. Aides say he believes a battle over such symbols will help him politically.
Well, that might be better than toy trucks, and there’s always this:
Despite his bouts of moroseness, Trump can also exhibit optimism not entirely grounded in reality. He has continued to tell advisers, for instance, that he is certain the virus will go away by October and that there will be a “cure” by then – a word he favors over “vaccine.”
Then, he adds in these accounts, the economy will rebound overnight and he will win a second term.
And did you know that unicorns actually fart out rainbows? No, he’s not that far gone, but someone must have told him these things are not going to happen, at least on his schedule, or perhaps ever. Why does he think this? That’s troubling. This could, in fact, be a cognitive issue. Someone might have mentioned that. That could explain what Maggie Haberman reports here:
President Trump on Thursday volunteered to Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that he “very recently” took a test at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center measuring his mental acuity and “aced” it, but the White House would not say when he took it or why.
Mr. Trump boasted that his success on the test surprised his doctors as he continued his attempt to make a campaign issue of whether his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was mentally fit.
This was one old white man shouting about another old white man – I don’t have dementia! HE does!
He may have proved the opposite:
“I actually took one when I – very recently, when I – when I was – the radical left were saying, is he all there? Is he all there? And I proved I was all there, because I got – I aced it. I aced the test,” Mr. Trump, 74, said in his interview with Mr. Hannity.
He went on to say that Mr. Biden should also take the test.
“And he should take the same exact test, a very standard test. I took it at Walter Reed Medical Center in front of doctors,” Mr. Trump said. “And they were very surprised. They said, that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did. But he should take that same test.”
This was a dare:
Mr. Trump described taking the test after Mr. Hannity mentioned that Mr. Biden had said he had taken several cognitive tests. The president insisted that Mr. Biden must have meant tests he took for the coronavirus and that his rival “couldn’t pass” a cognitive test.
He could pass the test. Anyone could. This is the test:
After his annual physical in 2018, the White House physician at the time, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, said that the president had received a score of 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test that hospitals including Walter Reed use to screen for “mild cognitive dysfunction,” and that there was “no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought processes.”
Dr. Jackson said then that Mr. Trump had asked to take the test.
The Montreal assessment is a 30-question test that takes about 10 minutes to complete, and requires, among other things, that the test-taker identify pictures of animals, state the date, month, year and day of the week and repeat five words immediately and again a short time later.
At a meeting of campaign and Republican officials several weeks ago at the White House, Mr. Trump boasted, according to a person familiar with what was said, about how well he had performed on the task of repeating five words.
That’s even more troubling, and sad:
Private Republican polling has shown the attacks on Mr. Biden’s cognitive state have not done much to move the needle with voters, according to people who described the details of the surveys. And Mr. Trump is a difficult messenger for an attack on Mr. Biden as his own health has come under scrutiny.
That included an episode during a speech at West Point last month when the president had difficulty bringing a water glass to his mouth with one hand and then walked gingerly down a ramp to exit the stage.
In response to the questions that followed, Mr. Trump lashed out on Twitter, insisting the ramp was slippery, and then he devoted more than 10 minutes of his rally in Tulsa, Okla., a week later to defend himself and to insist he was healthy. The president described it to the crowd as a “journey” down the ramp and insisted the ramp was as slick as an ice-skating rink.
“I looked very handsome,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to run down the whole thing because the fall there would be definitely bad. So I took these little steps – I ran down the last 10.”
The video did not show Mr. Trump going any faster until the final three steps.
The video also did not show him looking very handsome. That’s a purely subjective judgment. Tastes vary. He is who he is, and Philip Bump finds that to be the real problem here:
Getting a perfect score is literally the baseline for being normal, not for being exceptional.
Trump can’t help it. If he does anything, he does it better than anyone. If he is being tested, his results are breathtakingly exceptional. If he is asked to draw a clock to measure whether he’s experiencing any cognitive deterioration – something worth tracking closely in part because his father died after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – then Trump will let you know that never has anyone drawn so amazing a clock. He will tell you that the doctors marveled at the precision of his placement of the 6-7-8-9 stretch and stood slack-jawed at how precisely the minute hand aimed at the 2. This is who Trump is, a guy who builds a 58-floor building in Manhattan and tells everyone it’s 68 floors high.
After Trump’s interview with Hannity, people were quick to point out the flip side of his boast about the doctors: Having medical professionals be amazed that you performed normally on an evaluation of your cognitive abilities is not exactly the endorsement it might have seemed like as the words were coming out of Trump’s mouth.
Another reason boasting about the test probably wasn’t a good idea, which, if you think about it, is kind of a test of its own.
But he’s worried, and now he should be worried:
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday reports that a record 67 percent of respondents now disapprove of “the way Donald Trump is handling the response to the coronavirus,” while only 33 percent approve – the widest gulf in public sentiment since ABC News and Ipsos started surveying on the pandemic in March.
The same percentage of respondents, 67 percent, also say they disapprove of “the way Donald Trump is handling race relations” amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice that began in late May after the killing of George Floyd. Just 32 percent of respondents say they approve of Trump’s handling of race relations.
The president’s diminished approval ratings come as the twin national crises have ravaged the United States in recent weeks, with a resurgence of coronavirus infections across the South and West forcing some governors to halt or reverse their states’ reopening plans. The climbs in Covid-19 cases have coincided with the country’s painful reckoning with racial prejudice in policing and other facets of American life.
Two thirds of the nation, including quite a few Republicans this time, see a man who cannot handle either matter, who only makes both things worse. That what the New York Times’s Katie Glueck reports here:
From North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Arizona, interviews this week with more than two dozen suburban voters in critical swing states revealed abhorrence for Mr. Trump’s growing efforts to fuel white resentment with inflammatory rhetoric on race and cultural heritage. The discomfort was palpable even among voters who also dislike the recent toppling of Confederate statues or who say they agree with some of Mr. Trump’s policies.
As the president increasingly stakes his candidacy on a message of “law and order,” casting himself as a bulwark against “angry mobs” and “thugs,” there are signs that he is especially alienating voters in bedroom communities who approach the debate over racial justice with a far more nuanced perspective than the president does.
But it’s a bit more complicated than that:
A Monmouth University poll released this week found that Republicans – who still overwhelmingly support the president – were less than half as likely to express sympathy for the demonstrators’ anger as they had been four weeks earlier, when the protest movement was first gaining steam. And some strategists warn that there is political risk for Democrats if swing voters begin to perceive them as radical.
But among most Americans, the poll found, support for protesters continued to run high – and so did concern over Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, sentiment that was reflected on the ground in swing state suburbs like Cornelius, North Carolina – traditionally a conservative-leaning area – and along the Main Line outside Philadelphia.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Jane Scilovati, a schoolteacher from Devon, Pa., along Philadelphia’s wealthy Main Line. She voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but said she now regrets the decision. She called the president’s recent handling of racial issues “deplorable.”
“He doesn’t have any compassion or empathy; he doesn’t reference historical facts correctly,” she said in an interview outside a supermarket. “He’s brought more division to this country than we’ve seen since the Civil Rights Act.”
Ms. Scilovati, 54, said she would support “Daffy Duck” rather than the president in this year’s election.
Daffy Duck isn’t on the ballot. That’s a Biden vote:
While Mr. Trump won suburban areas overall by four percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls, white college-educated suburban women have rapidly moved away from his Republican Party, and they helped deliver the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018. And now, as some polling shows Mr. Trump facing competitive races even in deep-red states, he cannot afford to lose all of those voters again.
And there’s the South too:
In North Carolina, a rare competitive battleground state in the South, the controversies surrounding Confederate symbols, and Mr. Trump’s views on those issues, are especially fraught. In a state that is home to the Research Triangle in the Raleigh area, a museum in Charlotte dedicated to championing the “New South” and an influx of newcomers in recent years, many residents recoil at Mr. Trump’s defense of those symbols.
In a recent survey of North Carolina by the New York Times and Siena College, 51 percent of registered voters in the Charlotte suburbs disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of recent protests, compared with 44 percent who approved.
“We’re a changing and evolving district; the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative is no longer relevant,” said Democratic State Representative Christy Clark, who flipped his statehouse seat from Republican control in 2018 and faces a competitive re-election fight.
Something is up and the Trump team knows it:
Well before the call was made to postpone President Donald Trump’s Saturday re-election rally in New Hampshire, the warning lights were flashing red.
There were no signs of the typical throngs of supporters camped out days in advance for a good spot; the Republican governor said he would skip it, advising anyone at high risk to stay home over coronavirus concerns; fears of a repeat of Tulsa’s disappointing turnout weighed heavily; and then came the stormy weather reports, which could have further stifled attendance.
By the time the campaign announced that the Portsmouth event was off, citing “safety concerns” over a tropical storm barreling toward the Northeast on Friday afternoon, people close to the campaign said fears over low turnout also motivated the decision to scrap the event.
The coastal town is not currently expected to be hit directly by the storm, but the decision to reschedule over bad weather is a “convenient excuse” for the Trump 2020 team, one outside adviser told NBC News.
Reporters might pounce on that, but there WAS a massive storm that WAS going to hammer Portsmouth at EXACTLY the wrong time. Really, there was. Trump can explain it all on national television with a map and a Sharpie. But he won’t have to do that, because no one really cares. His rallies don’t matter now. He’s a sullen and spiteful old man who was going to sneer and rage at quite random odd things that really annoyed him. Even his loyal supporters have better things to do that night.
He knows what’s happening. Screw it all. But one thing was left to him, as Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report, to make a joke of the law:
President Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. on seven felony crimes on Friday, using the power of his office to spare a former campaign adviser, days before Mr. Stone was to report to a federal prison to serve a 40-month term.
In a lengthy written statement punctuated by the sort of inflammatory language and angry grievances characteristic of the president’s Twitter feed, the White House denounced the “overzealous prosecutors” who convicted Mr. Stone on “process-based charges” stemming from the “witch hunts” and “Russia hoax” investigation.
The statement did not assert that Mr. Stone was innocent of the false statements and obstruction counts, only that he should not have been pursued because prosecutors ultimately filed no charges of an underlying conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.
In short, yeah, the guy broke the law, but he broke the law to protect Donald Trump. He goes free, and if that seems corrupt, Trump doesn’t give a damn if it does:
The commutation, announced late on a Friday, when potentially damaging news is often released, was the latest action by the Trump administration upending the justice system to help the president’s convicted friends. The Justice Department moved in May to dismiss its own criminal case against Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. And last month, Mr. Trump fired Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney whose office prosecuted Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, and has been investigating Rudolph W. Giuliani, another of his lawyers.
And the reaction was immediate and predictable:
Democrats quickly condemned the president’s decision, characterizing it as an abuse of the rule of law. “With this commutation, Trump makes clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and a leader of the drive to impeach Mr. Trump last year for pressuring Ukraine to incriminate his domestic rivals.
Two House committee chairmen quickly announced that they would investigate the circumstances of the commutation, suggesting that it was a reward for Mr. Stone’s silence protecting the president.
Of course it was. This is America. Break the law and you’ll pay for that. Break the law to protect Donald Trump and you won’t. He is the president. He has that power now:
Mr. Stone, 67, a longtime Republican operative, was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation into Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and possible ties to Russia. Prosecutors convinced jurors that he lied under oath, withheld a trove of documents and threatened an associate with harm if he cooperated with congressional investigators. Mr. Stone maintained his innocence and claimed prosecutors wanted him to offer information about Mr. Trump that he said did not exist.
As his time to report to prison neared, Mr. Stone openly lobbied for clemency, maintaining that he could die in prison and emphasizing that he had stayed loyal to the president rather than help investigators.
“He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,” Mr. Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman on Friday shortly before the announcement. “It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”
There was information about Trump and everyone knew it. Stone stonewalled. Trump rewarded him. He is Trump’s guy:
Mr. Stone has been one of the most flamboyant rogues in American politics for decades, maintaining a wardrobe of more than 100 suits, bleaching his hair, posing for photographs half-naked and cheerfully engaging in dirty tricks that others would disavow. He made political contributions to a Republican challenger to President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 under the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and hired an operative to try to infiltrate the campaign of George McGovern, the Democratic candidate.
He was accused of leaving a threatening, profanity-laced voice mail message for the father of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, resulting in Mr. Stone’s resignation. But he later got his revenge on Mr. Spitzer by claiming credit for spreading the rumor that the governor wore black dress socks during sexual escapades with prostitutes.
An unapologetic admirer of Mr. Nixon who even had the disgraced president’s face tattooed on his back, Mr. Stone also worked for other major Republican candidates, including President Ronald Reagan, Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey and Senator Bob Dole, the party’s 1996 nominee for president.
Mr. Stone’s history of scandals and dirty tricks did not trouble Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone is not only Mr. Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, but has been integral to most of his political activities over the past three decades.
And he has a friend in Bill Barr too:
Mr. Stone was sentenced against a backdrop of upheaval at the Justice Department not seen for decades. Four career prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, citing advisory sentencing guidelines. After Mr. Trump attacked the recommendation on Twitter, Attorney General William P. Barr overruled it. Mr. Trump then publicly applauded him for doing so, even though the attorney general said he made the decision on his own and criticized the president on television for undercutting his credibility.
The prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest, and one quit the department entirely. At Mr. Stone’s sentencing hearing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia called the situation “unprecedented.” Without naming him, she suggested that the president had tried to influence the course of justice by publicly attacking her, the jurors and the Justice Department lawyers.
“The dismay and disgust at any attempt to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party,” she said.
No, the law is for suckers. Trump and Barr can bypass the law at whim, whenever they’d like, and it was that time, again. Trump had been down in the dumps. He’d been feeling sullen and spiteful, and this fixed that, at least for one evening. This cheered him up. But the pandemic rages on, as does the rage at all the racial matters, and the economy is nearly dead, and the poll numbers show Trump losing it all. What will this man do next to cheer himself up?