Three speeches in three days. The first was delivered to an audience of our troops, aides and cabinet members in Arlington, Virginia, and read verbatim by Trump from a teleprompter in an even tone, detailing the administration’s “new” Afghanistan policy. The Republican leadership indicated they were pleased.
The president then flew on to Phoenix, Arizona, for what was a campaign rally where the unscripted Trump took center stage and, not unlike his “press conference” at the Trump Tower, launched into a free association riff that is now familiar and too often cringe inducing.
For Trump, this rally — like those that have proceeded — seemed to fill an emotional void. He was surrounded by red hats, many holding signs, uncritical in their adulation as he pin-balled from grievance to justification to denunciation, to a lament of his victimhood. He soon pointed toward the reporters and the cameras and trash-talked the press, saying the media were “dishonest,” “crooked,” and, of course, “fake.” He went on to say that “These are sick people. You know the thing I don’t understand? You would think ... they’d want to make our country great again. And honestly I believe they don’t.” The media has failed to accurately report his words, he said, and as an example he took out several sheets of paper and read, glibly, from two speeches about the Charlottesville marchers and protesters. He did intentionally leave out those salient words that stunned pundits as well as politicians from both sides of the aisle.
He denigrated the “one vote” cast, which caused his health care bill to fail. “One vote,” he repeated. But he would name no names, he said. Though it was obvious he was referring to John McCain. He then went on to say that the other Arizona senator, meaning Jeff Flake, was weak on border control and crime.
This was followed by his testimony to the good character of the former sheriff, Joe Arpaio, found guilty of racial profiling Latinos and convicted of civil contempt. “Was Sheriff Joe convicted of doing his job?” he asked, rhetorically. Trump assured the crowd that the sheriff “was going to be just fine,” implying a pardon would soon be forthcoming.
Of course, he mentioned the border wall. The funds would be in the budget or he would “shut down the government,” a threat suggesting an economic train wreck.
The rally, lasting some 75 minutes, ricocheted from topic to topic, often returning to the “fake media,” which now fulfills the role of villain in Trump world.
He failed to mention the 10 missing sailors on the USS McCain, which struck an oil tanker near Singapore.
His third speech was to the Reno, Nevada, American Legion, where once again he read from the teleprompter, saying, “We are one people, with one home, and one flag.” He called for the nation to “heal.”
It’s clear (and still astonishes) that the Trump that we observed during the Arizona speech is the man who stood before the voters throughout the primary and the presidential campaigns and the man 63 million people voted for.
But here is the caveat: I am of the opinion that beginning on the day after the inauguration, the demands of being president have exacerbated Trump’s worst qualities. He has always lived fast and loose in business as well as in his personal life. Ethics and truth are often a bridge too far. Taking responsibility for mistakes made has always been anathema. He has displayed a predilection for conspiracies. His coin of the realm is retribution for perceived slights.
Regarding the sustained vitriol directed at the media, I believe it stems from the tenacious scrutiny leveled by the Fourth Estate. To the press, words count. Promises matter. Tweets are news. Pundits opine. It is this relentless, microscopic examination of his performance (and incompetence) that disturbs him, this intrusive insistence on accountability. Russia, in all its permutations, has and will be investigated and reported. As will Trump’s growing erratic behavior and instability. The question is, can our nation endure this presidency? Or, perhaps more to the point, can Trump? But that doesn’t mean he will resign. Resignation would wreck his brand.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.