Former National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. may have put it best when — appearing on CNN after Donald Trump’s dyspeptic, disjointed, disgraceful pep rally Tuesday evening at the Phoenix Convention Center — he questioned the president’s fitness for office and whether he’s “looking for a way out.” What if, Clapper wondered in his most sobering assessment, a president capable of such a “downright scary and disturbing” performance before cheering supporters decides to use nuclear weapons against North Korea? “There’s actually very little to stop him,” the career intelligence professional observed.
What made President Trump’s speech so frightening that Clapper is thinking about nuclear codes? Perhaps it was the manic attacks on the Fourth Estate for which Trump summoned more fury than he’s ever directed at neo-Nazis. Maybe it was yet another rambling account of Trump’s “accomplishments” that bear little resemblance to the truth — like claiming to have signed more legislation than any previous president when he’s actually signed fewer bills than the last six. Or his need to yet again relive his awful response to the deadly Charlottesville protest. Or perhaps to tease his audience that he’s going to pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos, and by so doing broaden his reputation for embracing racism at a time when the country desperately deserves better.
But we’re guessing it was the sum total of what amounted to a big, hot mess, an appearance that in many ways was par for the course — the kind of combative and self-congratulatory off-the-cuff speech Trump offered during the campaign and continues to trot back out as his political support slips, just more desperate and inappropriate. If Trump’s initial reaction to Charlottesville, equating the white supremacists who marched in Virginia chanting Nazi slogans with counter-protesters, marked the low-point of his seven months in office (as the White House clearly saw it even if the president did not), why in the world would he want to again defend such actions Tuesday?
Oh, and here’s the kicker: In his lengthy defense of his first reaction to Charlottesville — a response leading members of his own political party have panned, incidentally — President Trump blasted the media for failing to accurately report what he said while inaccurately reporting it himself by carefully leaving out those fateful words, “on many sides,” that he used to describe the violence and thus equate neo-Nazis with those who came to protest neo-Nazis. In psychology, this is called projection: The president accused the media including CNN, which carried that Saturday Charlottesville reaction live and in full, of doing what he himself did by carefully excising the offensive portion of his remarks — and thereby fundamentally misrepresenting what was said at the time.
Why the rally then? To excite his base? It’s hard to believe even the most ardent Trump acolyte was thrilled by his 15-minute account of how he initially reacted to Charlottesville. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval ratings are rock bottom. To punish Arizona’s incumbent Republican senators or The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN? If so, it doesn’t appear to be working very well. Simply to feed his ego? That might be the only plausible explanation — but to what end? If the president were smarter, he’d be doing whatever he could to repair his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, according to The New York Times — oh, that Fourth Estate — has privately expressed doubts that the president can salvage his presidency after his summer of ineptitude and poor judgment.
One can only wonder what it’s like to be chief of staff John Kelly right now trying to assert discipline on the Trump White House only to watch his hot-headed boss go on another self-destructive bender — complete with a post-rally shout-out to himself on Twitter Wednesday morning. Sen. McConnell is likely correct. Even Trump’s claim that he’s willing to shut down the federal government if he doesn’t get enough money for the border wall sounds pretty empty when you have so little support in Congress and when you can’t even bring yourself to fully denounce Nazis. But launch an intercontinental ballistic missile? That he can still do, and that’s why it’s time for more Republicans to follow Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s lead and openly call for greater stability and competence in the White House before things get even scarier.
Editorial by the Baltimore Sun
(Tribune Content Agency)