Captain Chaos and the news conference from outer space
Donald J. Trump has been in office about a month and many are still waiting for him to morph into a chief executive who acts presidential. Those who presumed after the election the dog and pony show of Trump on the Stump would somehow or someway progress into a dignified forum of questions and answers were sadly disappointed.
The Donald impetuously called for a news conference without the customary 24 hours notice. Conducted in the East Room of the White House, Trump started the disorienting press event with an announcement of his second pick for Labor Secretary. Following that, the president took the press and the American public on a roller-coaster ride of incongruity, fabrications and surrealistic depictions of a term that thus far has been a chaotic mess.
Further, Trump’s blunt disrespect for the fourth estate was painfully evident. As Trump has famously communicated “The Press is the enemy of the people.” This statement is curiously reminiscent of Benito Mussolini or Adolph Hitler, both of whom nationalized the press and converted newspapers into government propaganda outlets.
Trump attempted to make the press a universal scapegoat of any and all of his problems. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.”
With Trump’s disdain of news reporters as a back drop, the president assigned culpability for the speculative public perception of his thus far haphazard tenure in office to the “Fake News” generated by some of the reporters attending the news conference. Despite the opinion of virtually everybody, Trump claimed “this administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.”
The president is alone in this misconception. Many appointment/non-confirmation required posts have remained unfilled because considering the actions of the president so far, possible candidates do not wish to take a post which may be tentative due to the likelihood that Trump will not be long in office.
Trump was undeterred in his adherence to his dreamlike picture of his presidency.
In regard to the Affordable Care Act, Trump assumes some grand action has occurred. “We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s a disaster.” To date Trump signed an executive order, which is an initial procedural step, allowing individual state mandates to be reviewed. Beyond that small action, any changes in the current law are within the purview of the congress.
Quizzically, Trump continued to attack the results of the election, which he obviously won. “I put it out before the American people, got 306 electoral college votes. I wasn’t supposed to get 222. They said there’s no way to get 222, 230- impossible.” He went on to claim he had the greatest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan. NBC’s Peter Alexander called him on this outlandish assertion. Alexander cited George H. W. Bush who received a 426 electoral vote total, William J. Clinton who received a 379 electoral vote total and Barack H. Obama who received a 332 vote total in 2012 and a 365 vote total in 2008. Trump’s silly response was that was what he was told.
Moreover, Trump continued in the vein of his consistent depiction of an ominous landscape for our country and how he is facing more challenges than any other president. For Trump to compare his degree of difficulty to an Abraham Lincoln, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt or even an Obama is laughable. In comparison with Obama’s circumstances, Trump is fortunate. Unemployment on Jan. 20, 2009, was 7.8 percent, while on Jan. 20, 2017, it was 4.7 percent. Gross Domestic Product in 2009 was -3.5 percent and in 2017 is +1.7 percent. Inflation rated by the Consumer Price Index was -.01 percent in 2009 and currently is .1 percent. Certainly, what Lincoln faced with a nation in pieces was much more difficult, and FDR grappled with one quarter of the country in utter poverty because of the Great Depression.
Nevertheless, Trump once again overdramatized his situation, “To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look.” Huh?
In the words of our 33rd President Harry Truman, “If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” If you find this job too daunting in what is a relatively quiet time in our history, how are you going to deal with a real crisis, Mr. Trump?
The president showcased his choice for Director of National Intelligence: Daniel Coats and complained that he was not getting approval for him and others because of Democratic resistance. “So if the Democrats who have-all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me.”
Where it is true that Mr. Coats along with Secretary of Interior designate Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Agriculture designate Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Commerce designate Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Health and Human Services designate Tom Price and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development designate Dr. Ben Carson have not succeeded through the verification process; It is also true that the administration, unlike administrations of the past, has no entity lobbying and extolling the supposed virtues of their candidates. Plus, the opposition of many of these candidates resided on both sides of the aisle. Some are simply not qualified for the jobs recommended or their record is outright antithetical to the tasks at hand.
For some strange reason, the president started quoting polls to herald his popularity. He mentioned a Rasmussen poll that showed he exhibited a 55 percent approval rating. He neglected to say the same poll had him at a 45 percent disapproval rating. Of course, he omitted the recent Pew poll that had his approval at 39 percent and a recent Gallup poll that had his approval at 40 percent. When confronted with these results, Trump exclaimed “any negative polls are fake news”.
As always speaking in superlatives, Trump made more fantastic statements, “We have made incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done”.
In that assertion, he may have a point. For not since the utter disorganization of the beginnings of the Clinton administration has the executive branch been so chaotic. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been prevented from bringing in his own deputies as a result he is working without key support. National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has had to resign already for acting in possible violation of the Logan Act. A political operative and adviser to the president, Steve Bannon, had been allowed on the National Security Council causing security personnel to resign. And Defense Secretary Mattis has had to hold hands with NATO allies to calm their fears after Trump made uproarious barbs about NATO being passé.
Furthermore, the Chief of Staff Reince Prebus has been usurped by Steve Bannon’s power base in the West Wing. As a result, conflicting messages are being given from the White House on a regular basis.
Simply, the first presidential press conference was not dissimilar to the first four weeks of this administration. It was a totally disorganized, dysfunctional, chaotic mess. The president’s delusion that he is operating a fine-tuned machine is far from the reality of his impetuous mismanagement.
Those voters who hoped Mr. Trump would stop demonizing others and stop internalizing and personalizing everything he hears in the press and become an organized and dutiful leader will be disappointed. In his private life, in his business life, and now as president he has been and will undoubtedly always be Captain Chaos.