When they complain about the president’s lack of presidential bearing, Donald Trump’s detractors sound increasingly like diners who wanted ice cream and cannot accept that they received calf’s-liver sundaes.
“Waiter, I’m telling you this is really terrible ice cream. It’s neither sweet nor creamy nor cold nor soft nor smooth!”
“And I’m telling you for the last time, it ain’t ice cream.”
Americans who oppose Trump are seeing new and terrifying botch jobs by the president constantly. And they keep declaring, “This is terrible presidential statesmanship. It’s neither knowledgeable nor consistent nor moral nor reassuring.”
That’s because it’s not presidential statesmanship. This is unscripted reality television acted out by a man who will say anything to get ratings and fill dead air, and who hopes the audience can’t remember the plot points from one day to the next any better than he can.
Consider Monday. Trump said in a recorded interview played that morning that Andrew Jackson would have prevented the Civil War if Jackson had “been a little later,” and that Jackson “was really angry when he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.” Hours later, Trump tweeted, “President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen.”
Jackson owned 150 slaves. Trump saying a slave-owning president wouldn’t have let the Civil War happen is basically saying he would have let slavery continue, and cheering it.
If Trump had the knowledge of history a president should, we’d have to conclude his worldview is essentially evil. But Trump no more understands history than a giant panda understands particle physics, which is comparatively comforting.
It would seem, if your job is to freak out America, that the Jackson thing would be a full day’s work. But the president also told Bloomberg News Monday he would “be honored” to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a vicious and dangerous despot with whom the United States has no diplomatic relations. Such a meeting would be a complete break with policy, human decency and American values. Trump said, referring to North Korea, “None of us are safe,” potentially the scariest off-the-cuff remark ever made by an American president. To round off the day, Trump praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the world’s leading killers of his own people, saying he recently enjoyed a “very friendly conversation” with the strongman and invited him to the White House.
And in his spare time Monday, Trump proposed increasing the gas tax, breaking up big banks and rewriting the health care bill the GOP is trying to pass in the House of Representatives. Tuesday morning, just to keep things rolling, he threatened a government shutdown for September after alternately lauding and slamming the deal that prevented one this week.
So why are people forced to argue over Trump’s presidential statesmanship when he has done almost nothing to justify the debate? Because of apologists like spokesman Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and all the opportunistic pundits and pols who keep insisting the things Trump says and does are acceptable and presidential.
Trump doesn’t seem to know better than to behave as he does. His supporters and hangers-on, though, certainly do.
They’re the ones who keep insisting that the calf’s-liver sundae is delicious ice cream. And they will have some explaining to do if the meal ends in disaster.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.