The world's most widely watched simulation on Monday featured President Donald Trump holding a Bible outside St. John's Church — after authorities forced demonstrators to flee to make way for the celebrity in chief's latest photo-op.
This highly protected "event" was clearly crafted to simulate courage, profess resolve, and most urgently, eclipse Trump's silent presence from a few nights before that, in a basement bunker with the lights turned off at the White House. It didn't seem to matter that those who run the church — damaged in a fire — clearly were less than thrilled about the president making it a campaign prop. The Trump team likes to accompany its claims of alternative facts with photos.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes St. John's Church, told NPR: "He held up his Bible after speaking [of an] inflammatory militarized approach to the wounds of our nation … He did not pray. He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving."
When simulating statesmanship, Trump gets photographed with foreign leaders, even when no new agreements are reached or are even close. On Tuesday, he posed on Twitter in his old role as reality-show executive, railing against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, brother Chris Cuomo, a TV journalist, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The pillorying had little if any discernible impact in the way of governance.
Trump apparently thinks it's a good idea to echo the pre-disgrace Richard Nixon by tweeting his slogans "Silent majority!" and "Law & Order!" without context. The launching of tear-gas canisters in Washington on Monday commemorated the 1960s better than any Woodstock revival. Convicted Trump political associate Roger Stone has a Nixon tattoo on his back. The denunciation of radicals and anarchists also signifies a political reenactment.
Republican Trump works to galvanize the right-wing base but has effectively surrendered so-called blue states to Democratic domination. As a result, his telephone conference with governors this week didn't even qualify as a professional tabletop exercise. Compromise, united crisis strategy and governance weren't the point. Talking tough about looters is a political win-win, a matter of popular consensus especially in swing states. It requires no difficult action on Trump's part.
Trump as the incumbent pretends many things for many audiences. He play-acts the bold libertarian when he shuns a COVID-19 mask and complains from the sidelines about lockdowns. He preaches the rule of law, except of course when fending off law enforcement, impeachment and denouncing the FBI and the "deep state." He even plays the maverick scientist, citing imaginary cures for a national plague and denying environmental threats.
Amid all the chaos, the first truly simulated presidency continues to unfold.