2018-09-29 14:04:51 UTC
laziness and ignorance in September 2018.
On Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump stood at a podium in New
York, where he was attending the United Nations General
Assembly, and gave something resembling a press conference. In a
discursive 81 minutes, he called Democratic senators con
artists for investigating allegations that the Supreme Court
nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a girl when he was in
high school. He insisted, in his signature third person, that
China has respect for Donald Trumps very, very large brain
and that North Koreas brutal dictator wrote him a very
personal, beautiful letter. There was word salad about Middle
East peace and something about Chuck Schumer voting against
And when it was over, despite all the agita on social media, I
thought to myself: Hes going to get reelected. Or, more
precisely: For all I know, hes going to get reelected because
his voters certainly didnt see what I just saw.
Trump has divided America into two realities, and at key
moments, his language reinforces that divide.
The Kavanaugh prosecutor is asking a baffling line of questions.
If you live in the reality that reads The Atlantic, you watched
that press conference and thought Trump had gone off the rails.
He rambled to the point of incoherence, skimming across
unfinished thoughts until his sentences fell off a cliff. His
policy pronouncements stayed on the spectrum between incorrect
and terrifying. The lies, the bullying, the interrupting this
was not the behavior of a commander in chief but of a WWE
But if you live in the reality that mainlines Fox News, you saw
something elsea strong president. You heard Trump assert
Americas resurging greatness: Steel mills are being built,
farmers will thrive, and the economy is doing better than even
he predicted. Trump suggested that he was wheeling and dealing
on trade with everyone from South Korea to Mexico, and showing
everyone whos boss. World leaders at the UN were laughing with
him, not at him. He was too busy chairing the Security Council
to pay attention to Kavanaughs latest accuser. And his genuine
solidarity with the accused reinforced the narrative taking hold
in conservative circles: Dont fear that your daughters lives
will be ruined by assault; fear that your sons lives will be
ruined by false accusations.
The truth, as we now know, is irrelevant in this reality. To
anyone who already believes that Trump is strong, Trumps
language was comforting. You saw a man in his element, blocks
away from his very own building with his very own name on it,
standing quite literally at the center of the world stage, and
clearly enjoying himself. He exuded what his base so desperately
hopes he and, by extension, they havepower.
What Mark Judges absence reveals
Trump hasnt done many of these solo press conferences. (My
former boss President Barack Obama used to get heat for not
doing more, but Trump has famously avoided them without much
criticism.) And yet, in his few appearances, he has completely
upended the medium. Gone are the predictable if tense affairs
where reporters asked questions and presidents would either
answer them or give the appearance of answering them. They have
been replaced with a reality show where the president pits
reporters, nations, his staff, and even his own controversies
(Kavanaugh v. Rosenstein) against one another, all to
demonstrate that he alone hands out roses.
And while some of America sees this for what it isunhinged
chaosothers see it filtered through the prism of right-wing
media, where all such performances come out looking strangely
Whether Trumps obsessive references to Obama are a tic or a
strategy, they serve his cause. On Wednesday, the president said
he would have the chance to nominate 145 lower-court judges,
because President Obama wasnt big on picking judges. Why?
They got tired, they got complacentsomething happened. That
something was, in fact, Mitch McConnell, who brought the
process to a halt when Republicans won the Senate. But thats a
pesky detail; what Trump supporters heard is that Obama was weak
and lazy, while he is a man of action.
When a question was asked about the administrations policy
toward Cuba, the president again invoked his predecessor, saying
that Obama gave them a pass, as if Obamas groundbreaking deal
with Cuba had been a free-for-all. From the economy to North
Korean hostages to Iran, he couldnt help but invoke the former
His critics found these repeated digs boorish, and small. His
fans probably found them resolute, funny, and, yes, powerful.
Trump, I wager, is perfectly aware of how he comes across in
both realities, and hes fine with that. He doesnt care how the
other half lives, and how they think.
Why is everyone so unfair to Donald Trump?
To wit: Responding to a question about Kavanaugh, Trump falsely
claimed that 52 percent of women voted for him. The Twitterati
went bananas, fact-checking his obvious lie: He only got 41
percent of all women; that 52 percent was white women. Trumpa
man single-mindedly obsessed with the 2016 electionsurely knows
this. This intentional error signaled to his voters that he
knows who they are and hes not out to attract anyone new. They
can have him all to themselves. And that is a potent electoral
A poll released on the day of Trumps press conference showed
that Kavanaughs support among Republican women had dropped by
18 points. But 2020 is still far away. If the Democrats do, as
some predict, take back Congress and start investigating the
administration, Republicans will surely close ranks around their
threatened leader. If Kavanaugh isnt confirmed and Democrats
are able to spend the next two years blocking the confirmation
of another right-wing justice, the conservative base will rally
If Wednesdays press conference demonstrated anything, its that
Trump may be so unpresidential as to be untouchable.