I have a confession. Very recently — like maybe two days ago — I had mostly stopped watching Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings, even though it’s my job. (Please, don’t tell the boss.) I watch until I get to the point where I have to either turn off the TV or resort to throwing the remote against the wall. I mean, it’s only lies and obfuscations and, of course, Trump’s toddler-like, watch-me, watch-me need for attention.
But then on Monday, the tweets and the texts began rolling in. Trump was not only off the rails, he was taking his Article 2 so-called declaration of total power to whole new levels. A thoroughly reported New York Times story Sunday, detailing his many avoidable failures during the pandemic, had apparently set him off.
I had no choice. I had to watch. And then I went to the Google and googled the critical clips to watch them again. And then, breaking one of my cardinal principles, I watched the recaps on cable news.
Why was this briefing different from all other briefings? It wasn’t. It was just worse. Forget any show of empathy, even as more than 25,000 Americans have now died and so many others are at risk. If you’ve watched Trump, you know that’s not part of the programming.
Instead, he congratulates himself — he humbly accords himself a 10 out of 10 — while bragging about his ratings. No other president has cited his TV ratings in such a circumstance. Or, I’m pretty sure, in any other circumstance. But at the risk of repeating myself, this is our president.
On this edition of the Trump Show, Trump repeatedly said his authority is “total.” Yes, at one point he qualified his total-authority claim to say that he had total authority over reopening the economy, which he desperately wants to reopen. We all want it open, of course, but only when it’s safe, not because there’s an election upcoming.
The Constitution is pretty clear on Trump’s relative powers, which are great, but Trump, as we know, is not so clear on the Constitution. So here’s the money quote from Monday: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total.”
It’s a wow quote. The guy thinks he actually is Vladimir Putin, but with his shirt on and no horse. Maybe it’s because Republican politicians let him think so. Or maybe it’s because, well, he’s Donald Trump.
The only solace I can offer is from a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Windsor Mann, who writes, “Subverting democracy requires more effort than Trump is willing to exert. He wants to be a dictator, but he’s unwilling to do the work to become one. Just as he inherited a fortune, he wants to inherit an autocracy. To be a successful strongman, you need a strong work ethic. Trump has only weak ethics.”
The weak ethics were on full display when Trump called Dr. Tony Fauci to the lectern to walk back his Sunday interview with Jake Tapper, in which Fauci had only stated the obvious, that if we had gone to mitigation earlier, lives would have been saved.
When Trump, the bully, wanted Fauci to “correct” himself, Fauci semi-obliged, calling the question he answered a “hypothetical.” But then on Tuesday, in an interview with the Associated Press, Fauci walked back the hypothetical walk-back, saying the country was not ready — note to Jared Polis — to re-open. I feel terrible for Fauci, who, because he’s a good man and knows that his expertise will save lives, has found himself in a hostage-like situation.
Then Trump broke out his astonishing campaign-style video for the reporters — a campaign-style video financed with taxpayer money that sings the praises of, wait for it, Donald Trump. Again, no other president has ever done anything remotely like this in such a circumstance. Or in any other circumstance.
What Trump and his team failed to understand is that the video showed the huge gap between his leaky Jan. 31 China travel ban and his final admission in mid-March that things were not so great. It didn’t contradict The Times story — The Washington Post and the AP have done similar takes — so much as confirm it.
Trump and his team also failed to reckon with the fact he was not at one of his rallies. And so following the video, CBS News reporter Paula Reid got in a question, which Trump talked over. When he didn’t have an answer, which was most of the time, he insulted her.
Reid: “You didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing. What did you do with the time that you bought, the month of February?”
Trump called the question “disgraceful.” But she continued as Trump tried to talk over her. “That video has a gap — the entire month of February. . .What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?”
Trump, in full take-no-responsibility mode, blamed everyone else, but mostly governors. (On Tuesday, he cited “Mutiny on the Bounty” in countering the whiny governors, but some are wondering if he meant “The Caine Mutiny.”)
By Tuesday, the war with the governors was out in the open. Even some Republicans — see: Marco Rubio — sided with the governors. We’re still waiting for Cory Gardner to weigh in. Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo said he’d refuse a Trump order to reopen New York’s economy if he didn’t think the timing was right. He said Trump was “spoiling for a fight.”
Cuomo told Morning Joe on MSNBC: “The only way this situation gets worse is if the president creates a constitutional crisis … like you haven’t seen in decades where states tell the federal government, we’re not going to follow your order. It would be terrible for this country, it would be terrible for this president.”
Trump responded to Cuomo in a tweet, “Cuomo’s been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc. I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”
But guess what did happen. Trump, the bully that he is, backed down when confronted with real strength and said the governors would decide when the time was right to reopen their states. As I said, he may want to be a dictator, but he’d fail at that, too.
This is Tuesday as I write this. I’m not watching him today, even though he’s apparently suspending funding for the World Health Organization. I admit I’m tempted. I want to do it, and then I read this quote on Twitter: “It would have been so easy to be truthful,” Trump says, talking, of course, about somebody else.