A great day of triumph for Donald Trump! The president went to an American Legion convention Wednesday and read a speech off a teleprompter. Nothing weird happened. Total victory.
We now divide the president’s public addresses into two categories. There are the unremarkable and predictable ones written by someone else and the ones in which he ignores the script and just says what’s on his mind, terrifying and confusing all Americans who are not in his base.
(About the base. Polls make it very clear that 30 to 40 percent of voters are going to approve of what Trump does, no matter what. Many of them don’t mind if he comes on stage and starts talking like Uncle Fred Who Gets Drunk at Family Dinners. They enjoy Uncle Fred. Some of them areUncle Fred.)
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Any other president who went to a convention of veterans and called for Americans to “work together” would have gotten no notice whatsoever. But Trump was coming off his spontaneous appearance in Phoenix when he frightened the whole country with his rants about the media and his wild riffs of self-congratulations.
“Now you know, I was a good student,” Trump ad-libbed at his Arizona rally. “I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They’re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were. I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment and I live in the White House, too, which is really great.”
Three points about this comment, only one of which is: “Wow, the president of the United States is so insecure he finds it necessary to brag about his grades in school.” The second is that we know about as much about his actual grades in school as we do about his tax returns.
Third, at the end Trump did seem to realize that if he was going to boast about his deeply overdecorated penthouse, he should mention that the White House is nice, too. Particularly since that unfortunate story about him calling it “a real dump.”
It would be calming to the national psyche if the president refrained from ever again speaking to the American people about his true thoughts and feelings. It wouldn’t do anything to improve his performance in office, but at least we might feel less nervous, moment to moment.
Right now, every day Americans have to wonder whether the president will be sane or spontaneous. He staged an impromptu press conference on Charlottesville and defended the neo-Nazis. His ramblings in Phoenix unnerved former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who pointed out that this is the guy with the nuclear football, and called Trump’s performance “downright scary and disturbing.”
The unfair part, of course, is that when Trump just reads words he’s been given, people are so relieved he gets way too much credit. Look at the speech on Afghanistan. The plan Trump unveiled is clearly never going to improve anything. And he delivered it in a strange way, staring at teleprompters to the left and right but almost never looking directly at the TV audience. But still, it had complete sentences! He did not once mention his own personal wealth or make up facts about his election victory. The White House basked in glory.
Then came the rally in Phoenix, an excellent example of how the president wanders off the written plan and just sort of runs amok.
He blathered for 77 minutes, dissing the two local Republican senators, one of whom is suffering from brain cancer. He threatened to shut down the government if he didn’t get money for his wall. He revealed that “Washington is full of people who are only looking out for themselves” and then raced into another paean to you-know-who.
“But I don’t come to Washington for me. You know, I’ve had a great life. I’ve had great success,” he confided to the viewing world. “I’ve enjoyed my life. Most people think I’m crazy to have done this. And I think they’re right. But I enjoy it because we’ve made so much – I don’t believe that any president – I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months. I really don’t believe it.”
We are not going to go into the list of presidents who accomplished more, since it requires naming everyone who’s held the office since Warren Harding.
This is a man who can’t refrain from congratulating himself even when he’s talking about the weather.
“I was over at the Yuma sector,” he told the folks in Phoenix, describing his trip to meet members of the Border Patrol. “It was hot. It was like 115 degrees. I’m out signing autographs for an hour. I was there. That was a hot day. You learn if you’re in shape if you can do that, believe me.”
Now the auditorium was full of people from Arizona. They spend their lives in ridiculous heat. It did not seem like a group who you wanted to entertain with a story about how much you suffered signing autographs when it was “like 115 degrees.”
It was actually 107. But that’s the least of our problems.