Donald Trump is still president. Hard to know what to do with this, people.
In less than a week he’s managed to put on one of the most divisive, un-helpful, un-healing presidential performances in American history. It’s been a great stretch for fans of Richard Nixon and James Buchanan.
On Wednesday, Trump had to dissolve his business advisory councils because the CEOs were fleeing like panic-stricken geese from a jumbo jet. We now have a president who can’t get the head of Campbell Soup to the White House.
Trump also announced plans to hold a rally next week in Arizona, where he’s said he’s “seriously considering” a pardon for former sheriff Joe Arpaio, the loathsome racial profiler who never met a constitutional amendment he didn’t ignore. Arpaio’s treatment of Latinos won him a criminal contempt conviction, but of course that’s nothing to our leader.
We had no idea how bad this guy was going to be. Admit it — during the campaign you did not consider the possibility that if a terrible tragedy struck the country involving all of our worst political ghosts of the past plus neo-Nazism, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would know the appropriate thing to say but Donald Trump would have no idea.
George W. Bush would have been at the funeral for the slain civil rights demonstrator in a second. About the best Trump could do was to praise Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, for writing “the nicest things” about him. Bro did indeed express appreciation for the president’s denunciation of “those who promote violence and hatred.” That was his written-by-someone-else statement, which preceded the despicable impromptu version.
We’re only safe when he’s using prepared remarks. The extemporaneous Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville wasn’t just tone-deaf and heartless; you had to wonder about the overall mental balance of a man who managed to both defend the alt-right demonstrators in Virginia and brag about his real estate in the neighborhood.
“Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?” Trump asked the stunned reporters. “I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.”
It was truly the kind of performance you expect from a deranged person, brought out to explain why he blew up a large government building and inquiring cheerfully: “Has anybody seen my car? It’s really nice. A Ford Pinto.”
Also, Trump does not own one of the largest wineries in the United States. Trump Winery is one of the largest wineries in Virginia, which is like bragging you own one of the largest ski resorts in Ohio.
(There’s something about catching these wild misstatements and lies of self-aggrandizement that can actually be soothing in the worst of times. It’s a diversion that gives you a little break from wondering what’s going to happen to the country.)
Meanwhile, business executives were concluding it was morally compromising to be on the White House manufacturing council. It’s hard to imagine what else could happen before autumn kicks in.
We are just beginning to fully understand how critical it is for a president to have at least a minimal understanding of American history. This one seems to have only recently discovered he belongs to the same party as Abraham Lincoln. “Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,” Trump told a political gathering. “Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don’t know that. We have to build that up a little more.”
His response to the biggest challenge of his presidency began by blaming “many sides” for the crisis. Then there was the reading of an appropriate, if way overdue, statement. Then came the disastrous news conference on Tuesday, when he was just supposed to read a brief description of the administration plan for infrastructure — something about giving road-builders a reprieve from having to consider the possibility of future flooding.
But he started to take questions and actually say things from his own mind. His staff looked worried, then nervous, then despairing.
Even when Trump is not historically wrong, or making things up to extol his own self-image, or failing to do even the least modicum of national healing at a time of crisis, he’s so incoherent that it’s possible to misunderstand what should be a simple thought.
“I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts,” he blathered at one point, then lapsed into that terrible tendency to refer to himself in the third person. “And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated. In fact, everybody said his statement was beautiful. …”
This can’t go on. We don’t have time to wait for impeachment. Patriotic Republicans and administration officials have to get together and find a way to make sure that Donald Trump will never again say anything in public that is not written on a piece of paper. It’s their duty to the country.