In A Short History of Decay, the book that cemented his reputation as one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran wrote, “I have tried to protect myself against men, to react against their madness to discern its source; I have listened and I have seen—and I have been afraid of acting for the same motives or for any motive whatever, of believing in the same ghosts or in any other ghost, of letting myself be engulfed by the same intoxications or by some other ... afraid, in short, of raving in common and of expiring in a horde of ecstasies.” President Donald Trump, we know after Thursday’s press conference, has no such fear.
In Trump’s first two weeks, the president and his inner circle projected an image of frenzied activity—mostly in the form of executive orders—as a self-conscious attempt to put behind the chaos that had defined the transition. It was as if, with every executive order, Trump was trying to tell the nation that this was all for a purpose, that he was not King Lear on the heath, that he was riding the crest of a powerful, cleansing wave. But in Trump’s third week, this illusion fell apart. The institutions that Trump had spent a year or more decrying—the judiciary and the intelligence community, in particular—struck back. The week ended with his administration on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
In Trump’s fourth week, the wheels—which, to be fair, were never really on in the first place, and also on fire—came off. Wave after wave of reports detailing internal dysfunction and a bewildered president continued to crash against the administration. Then the White House faced its first major scandal: the resignation of Michael Flynn. That this scandal blew up a mere 24 days into the Trump administration, and was far more damaging than anything that happened in the Obama years, is everything you need to know about Trump’s disastrous presidency.
But Trump’s fourth week started rather quietly. On Friday morning, he demonstrated what is already well-known, that he has zero reading comprehension skills. (If you have conclusive proof that Trump has read a book, please email me.) He attacked the failing New York Times by tweeting: “The failing @nytimes does major FAKE NEWS China story saying “Mr.Xi has not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov.14.” We spoke at length yesterday!” The Times article Trump was referring to was written before the conversation with Xi and was perfectly accurate. Trump then spent most of the afternoon violently shaking Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand:
Despite the storm clouds gathering over Mike Flynn, Saturday was perhaps the quietest day of Trump’s presidency. He took to Twitter to say that The Wall (which he is now referring to as the “great Wall,” presumably as part of a tie-in campaign for the Matt Damon movie) would cost less than $21 billion because he would negotiate the price down. He went golfing with Shinzo Abe and presumably cheated. It wasn’t until evening that Trump fulfilled his unspoken goal of making at least one fuck-up of world-historical proportion every day. After being informed that North Korea had tested a ballistic missile, Trump and his advisers held a security briefing in full view of the guests at Mar-a-Lago. As Trump staffers lit classified briefing with camera phones, the guests looked on with glee and posted on Facebook about how incredible it was to watch an event of this magnitude unfold before their eyes. For the first time in Mar-a-Lago’s history, the club’s members got their money’s worth.
On Sunday, Trump reverted to the norm. Nineteen minutes after Abe left to return to Japan, he took to Twitter to attack Mark Cuban as a jealous hater. Meanwhile, Trump aide Stephen Miller—an argument that having male pattern baldness as a teenager can have devastating psychological effects—represented the White House on the Sunday shows. He was borderline incoherent and rarely truthful. He told George Stephanopoulos that it is well-known that thousands of voters are bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote in that state’s elections. (It is not well-known because it does not happen.) He claimed, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.” (Trump, has maybe—maybe—surpassed the accomplishments of William Henry Harrison’s administration, which ended with Harrison’s death after 30 days.) Miller was terrible but Trump loved it. He praised Miller on Twitter, presumably for the purpose of negging Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who lies a lot and yells a lot, but doesn’t lie enough or yell enough for Trump. Also on Saturday: Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education continued its mission of making children learn good by misspelling W.E.B. DuBois’s name.
Monday was Justin Trudeau Day at the White House. Trump was repeatedly owned and cucked by the handsome, sensitive prime minister, who would love to tell you about his tattoo and also ask you about yours. First, Trudeau came prepared for the now-patented weird-ass Trump handshake.
And then he did the unthinkable: He won over Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
But Monday’s real story came only at the tail end of the day. After days of mounting pressure, Flynn resigned as national security adviser, over reports that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador during the transition, then lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence and others. Flynn’s initial statement was the administration’s cover story in a nutshell: “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.” The problem, as we would learn over the coming days, is that the cover story was full of holes.
Tuesday was the day that the Trump administration tried to take control of the runaway Flynn narrative, and proceeded to fuck it up enormously. First, adviser Kellyanne Conway went on Today, where she managed to not only get grilled by Matt Lauer, but to get owned by him.
Lauer did a good job not because he’s suddenly figured out journalism (he’s Matt Lauer!) but because the Trump administration’s story about Flynn makes no sense. The initial narrative was that Flynn was let go because he had lost Trump’s trust after he lied to Pence. However, the White House was first informed that Flynn had lied about his conversations with the Russians weeks before that news was made public. Trump tried to distract attention with a different narrative: That the real story here is not that Michael Flynn (possibly illegally) talked to the Russians about U.S. sanctions (possibly at Trump’s behest), but that his call was leaked to the press.
This would have more currency if Trump had not, just two days prior, dealt with an incredibly sensitive international incident in front of dozens of civilians at Mar-a-Lago. Or if Trump hadn’t spent weeks on the campaign trail talking about how great Wikileaks is. Or if Trump hadn’t widely criticized Washington’s lack of transparency and general distance from average Americans. Or if Trump hadn’t been informed that Flynn had lied weeks before. Also on Tuesday: Breitbart turned on Chief of Cuck Reince Priebus for being too much of a cuck; Linda McMahon finally bought a government job; and Sean Spicer was even worse at his job than normal.
On Wednesday, Trump had a meltdown on Twitter. He made a series of contradictory claims about Flynn’s resignation, suggesting that it was both “fake news” and that the leaks that informed this supposedly “fake news” were illegal. Mostly, though, Trump was just mad. Trump was absolutely raving—Nixon talked to the paintings in the White House; Trump takes to Twitter. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also came out that Mike Pence supposedly didn’t know that Flynn had misled him until the Washington Post published a story about it the Thursday previous. This prompted the question: Why was Pence kept in the dark? At the very least, by distancing himself, Pence appeared to be preparing for the absolute worst.
Trump also hung out with Benjamin “the Biebs” Netanyahu. At a press conference, Trump bragged about his small Electoral College victory when asked about anti-Semitism, and said that the United States was open to a “one-state solution,” which it hasn’t been since the Clinton administration. Trump’s comment did not appear to stem from any negotiation position, but rather from ignorance and/or apathy. In general, he seemed beaten down and exhausted. During the campaign, Trump seemed to draw energy from large rallies—people shouting “lock her up” and punching protesters—so on Wednesday he also announced a “campaign event” in Florida. The 2020 campaign is already upon us. God help us all.
On Thursday, things seemed like they might calm down, after two days of feverish Flynn-related activity. But they did not. Trump apparently walked into the Oval Office in the morning and announced that he wanted to have a press conference because he thought his tweets weren’t as effective as they should be. The press conference, which lasted over an hour, was insane—like a drunk, raving, Watergate-era Nixon doing the “Checkers” speech. Trump ranted at the media about how unfairly he was being treated and how his many accomplishments were being unfairly maligned merely because they were autocratic or unconstitutional or incredibly unpopular. He said that he did not know that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, but that he would have told Flynn to do just that. He said, “The leaks are real, but the news is fake,” which is both nonsense and the Trump family’s new motto. (It replaced “Turn out your pockets.”) He called a Jewish reporter a liar for asking about a recent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. He asked a black reporter if she personally knew the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also, perhaps most troublingly, seemed to think he had done a good job.
But the biggest takeaway was that he and those around him have no idea what they are doing. Instead, they are responding wildly to every crisis in front of them. To top it all off, Thursday ended with another bombshell Washington Post report, revealing that Flynn had lied to the FBI about the nature of his conversations with the Russians, which is a felony. We’re exactly one month into the Trump presidency and we already have a scandal that seems like a hybrid of Watergate and Iran-Contra.
In the first installment of this series, I wrote that “if there is one law of Trump’s presidency, it is that every day is a little bit worse than the one before it.” This is still true. But if there is one silver lining of Trump’s presidency it is that it is true for Donald Trump as well.