In his first work, On the Heights of Despair, the dour Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran wrote, “No matter which way we go, it is no better than any other. It is all the same whether you achieve something or not, have faith or not, just as it is all the same whether you cry or remain silent.” These words, no doubt, are comfort to President Donald Trump, whose sixth week in office gave him, for one brief moment, the widespread acclaim from the media that he has desired his entire life—only to see it disappear (like tears, in rain) after a bombshell report revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath to Congress about his contacts in 2016 with members of the Russian government.
It was a week of speeches. Trump’s CPAC address was aimed at firing up his base, while his address to a joint session of Congress was aimed at buttering up the pundit class. The reception to the latter was a testament to how little has gone right for Trump in his first six weeks—the only other thing he’s done to general acclaim has been the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. That Trump got points for not screwing either of them up—and they’re very hard to screw up!—shows just how low the bar for Trump is. He seemed to get points for merely facing in the right direction.
And yet ... it is a bar that Trump and his administration cannot clear. Trump has been trying to be more disciplined, but not tweeting nonsense for a couple of days will only get you so far, especially when your entire presidential campaign staff was seemingly communicating with members of Russian intelligence.
On Friday, Trump addressed CPAC, the original nerd prom, where he read from his popular travel blog “Places Not To Go Because There Are Muslims There.”
Everything about this is funny. Politicians like to tell stories about everyday people, but Trump’s everyday person is a mega-rich guy who is mad that he can’t go on vacation anymore because Muslims. Poor Jim! Sacre bleu!
But Trump also promised that this would change, because White House adviser Steve Bannon’s nationalistic revolution would sweep Europe and Make Countries Ethnically Homogenous Again. “What happened in 2016 is the beginning of a great, global revolution,” Trump said. “And this will roll out across the rest of the West. We’ve got some very exciting elections coming up: in the Netherlands, in France, in Germany, possibly even in Italy. And believe me, I don’t yet know whether the results in 2017 will be as dramatic as the results in 2016. But what I do know is that even if the challengers don’t get over the line this year, what they will do is shift the center of gravity of the entire debate.” In other words: Things are about to get a whole lot worse! Also, the crowd chanted, “Lock her up!”
That wasn’t all that happened on Friday. Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to turn the press room into a safe space by blocking reporters from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Politico, the AP, and Time, while making room for people from OANN and Breitbart. The media lost its collective shit and rightfully so. It was a classic Trump administration move—conceived in haste, ultimately a distraction accomplishing nothing but ill will. Also, Trump did some tweets about Russia and the tweets were bad:
And the FBI is the intelligence agency that likes Trump!
Trump’s weekend was rather quiet. He didn’t go to Mar-a-Lago. Instead he watched Herman Cain on television and announced that he would not be attending the White Correspondent’s Dinner. Ending the smug reign of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner is the only unequivocally good thing that Trump has done. (Lots of media agree with this, but a lot of these same people were tweeting about #nerdprom six years ago or whatever. Sheep.) He also tweeted this after Tom Perez became chair of the Democratic National Committee.
This is a funny tweet and an argument that Trump really is the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters or whatever he calls himself. Trump ended Saturday with his favorite meal: a blackened, ketchup-covered steak.
On Sunday, the Oscars happened and were mostly disappointing, except for the thing that happened at the end. The awards touched on Trump, as everyone knew they would, but in a perfunctory way, and that made it not very fun. (They were also hosted by mean Bob Hope Jimmy Kimmel, formerly the sidekick of Adam Carolla, aka the Donald Trump of Comedians.) Trump mostly laid low, though he did tweet that Russia is FAKE NEWS, essentially proving that it isn’t.
One person who didn’t lay low was unwanted White House pet Sean Spicer. On Sunday, Politico reported that Spicer conducted a Nixon-esque surprise attack in which he made staffers give up their phones so they could be checked for secret communications with the press. This is obviously chilling, but one thing that’s been under-covered is just how pathetic it (and, by extension, Spicer) is. Spicer was further owned when Navy Secretary Philip Bilden withdrew his nomination only days after Spicer said that he wasn’t going to withdraw.
Spicer ended the weekend in a dumb feud with the New York Times about where he was born.
On Monday, Spicer’s string of deserved bad luck continued when Axios Presented By Globex reported that he had arranged for members of Congress to speak to the media and push back on reports that the Trump campaign was in “constant contact” with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, therefore undermining the credibility of the pushback itself. (This is pretty much Spicer’s specialty.) Trump then revealed that he has no idea what he’s doing.
This is one of the ways Trump deals with setbacks: He claims that he is facing an unprecedented situation that no normal person could handle. The problem, of course, is that literally everyone in America knows that health care is complicated—it only takes 30 seconds on the phone with an insurance company to figure that out. Also on Monday: Donald Trump’s presidency reached a new low when it became a vehicle for George W. Bush’s redemption tour; the Trump administration announced it was going to cut the welfare state so it could build cool tanks; and Kellyanne Conway put her damn feet on the couch.
Tuesday was speech day in the Trump White House, which meant it was also Let’s Do Some Lies Day. To try to get more favorable coverage of the speech, the Trump administration leaked that the president would take a more moderate stance on immigration—but he did no such thing. Trump administration officials then congratulated themselves for their “misdirection play.” Before his speech, he also blamed the military for the death of a Navy SEAL during a botched raid in Yemen, even though, as commander-in-chief, he had given the OK for the raid to take place. Then he suggested that Jews might be desecrating their own cemeteries to make him look bad.
But then everything changed. Trump’s speech was mostly pretty boring, but it contained a number of conciliatory flourishes. He began by speaking about the wave of anti-Semitic attacks and by condemning the recent shooting of two Indian men in Kansas by a white supremacist—something that he has been criticized for not doing. And the emotional high point, if you believed the rhapsodic media response that followed, was his discussion of that botched raid in Yemen.
This is certainly moving! But its context is grotesque. Trump has been under fire for that raid ever since it occurred, and here he used the widow of the man who was killed as cover for criticism. The raid was found to have yielded no important intelligence, but here Trump said that it did—not only that, he said General Mattis told him so, further removing himself from responsibility. And he literally passed the buck on responsibility for this raid earlier in the same day! To top it all off, Trump responded to the lengthy applause by saying this: “Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he is very happy because I think he just broke a record.” The dead Navy SEAL is happy because some meaningless TV record was maybe broken.
Still, the speech was treated as a transcendent moment. Donald Trump, after 40 days in office, was finally president. On Wednesday, Trump was so thrilled he did a tweet:
Nice. Things were going so well, that the Trump administration decided to wait to implement a new travel ban because it would make people mad again and they needed this moment because it’s all that Donald Trump cares about in the world. “For once, we had the wind at our sails. We decided not to shit on ourselves,” said one Trump aide. The favorable coverage lasted for much of the day but then, in the evening, two bombshell stories about Russia dropped. One, published by the Times, revealed that European allies presented the Obama administration with information alleging that members of the Trump campaign had met with members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in Europe. The other, from the Post, revealed that Jeff Sessions had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., twice during the 2016 election—and that he had lied to Congress about it during his confirmation hearing. By midnight, a number of prominent Democrats were already calling on Sessions to recuse himself from the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
By Thursday, everyone had forgotten that Trump had done a good thing. Even partisan woodchuck Jason Chaffetz was calling on Sessions to recuse himself. Sessions, over the course of the next several hours, would defend himself by saying several contradictory things. He said that he didn’t talk to the Russian ambassador. He said that he didn’t know what the allegation was about and that it was false—which is impossible. Then he said that he did speak to Kislyak, but not about the election—instead he provided a suspiciously detailed account of what they really talked about (Spoiler: church and Ukraine).
But he also partially recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into the election, robbing Trump of an ally when he badly needs one. And the story isn’t going away. Even if all of these conversations were innocent—which increasingly seems unlikely—the Trump administration has not been able to explain a) why there was such a high volume of contact between the campaign and Russia and b) why, if the contacts were innocent, members of the Trump cabinet lied about them. The only way to get to the bottom of the issue is to bring in an independent counsel, which would be a thorn in the side of the administration.
In Trump’s sixth week in office, he tried to cosplay as president. But, just as a tiger can’t change his stripes, the Trump administration can’t escape that it’s run by a maniac who refuses to take responsibility for anything and who seems to have no real sense of what the federal government does. One iron law of the Trump presidency is that nothing good can last more than 24 hours. Every time this administration takes a step forward, it’s pushed back two.
Editor’s note: Due to an error in the editing process, Hermain Cain was incorrectly identified as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. We regret the mistake.