At the start of the Trump administration in 2017, the usual rules for following a presidency applied. White House statements, even in short bursts on Twitter, were to be taken seriously, if not at face value. By now, however, President Donald Trump has exhausted his credibility, as he once did his financial credit with major banks.
Over the weekend, while on Air Force One, he delivered another in a long three-year stream of nothing burgers. Trump said he might use a security rationale to ban the popular video app TikTok, given that its parent company ByteDance is Chinese. But that threat had vanished by Monday after Microsoft and Trump aides spoke about a pending takeover deal for TikTok.
Now you hear it, now you don't. During a painfully glum and defensive interview with Fox News that aired July 19, he said, “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan."
Two weeks passed. Nothing happened. That his promise was empty should surprise nobody. Before his election, Trump said: "You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost — and it’s going to be so easy." But we still have what's left of Obamacare after years of GOP efforts to gut it.
Clearly some of Trump's deceptions, false accusations and flights of fancy carry more impact than others. Last week, he suggested delaying the November election, which he cannot do. But his underlying false rationale, that mail-in voting is guaranteed to promote fraud, brought a more indirect threat to U.S. citizens.
If the U.S. Postal Service fails to adjust to an expected increase in mail balloting, there could be problems. Is the president preemptively trying to undermine confidence in the process? He doesn't forcefully deny it. That's one way his little blurt could have some impact, as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The president was asked at a White House briefing on Friday why he wasn't spending “more energy” on helping states prepare for the November election.
“You know nothing about what I’m doing. Listen, you know nothing about what I do," Trump complained. “ … You’ll see what happens. It’s common sense. Everyone knows mail-in ballots are a disaster.” It is hard to tell what the average citizen should come away with.
There also has been little practical effect of Trump saying over and over that schools should reopen fully in the fall. Even the private school attended by his son Barron in Maryland is among those under county orders to stay closed to in-person classes until October. Reopening decisions are made locally and depend, as you'd expect, on the spread of COVID-19.
Despite what you may have seen in photos and videos, Trump tweeted on Monday: "My visits last week to Texas and Florida had massive numbers of cheering people gathered along the roads and highways, thousands and thousands, even bigger (by far) than the crowds of 2016."
He had visited Odessa, Texas, on Wednesday to greet workers in the depressed oil and gas industry, then Tampa, Florida, where he held a miniature campaign rally Friday that from all appearances brought a disappointing turnout. Both states are hit hard by the pandemic.
It is hard to imagine what overhyping the turnout at such events will do, other than to encourage his supporters and perhaps himself. Sometimes the most fitting citizen response to a presidential tweet may just be a shrug.