Opinion

A Week in Which President Trump Provided Some Hope

October dawned with hope. That hope died on October 2nd, at approximately 8 p.m. EST in Southaven Mississippi at a MAGA rally. Still, hope does spring eternal, so perhaps it is just napping again.

The White House and President Donald Trump have tried real hard during the last few weeks to convince everyone he’s over a learning curve and things are as “normal” as they’ll ever be, at least while he is around. The president has tried to curb his baser instincts and for several days, didn’t say anything nasty about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford after she accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The president even said she sounded “credible” after she testified before the Senate —a move that stunned many a White House staffer into a thorazine-like stupor of silence. With fewer press briefings from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the drama has been low. And with only heavily controlled and brief appearances from Trump, for near a week and a half, some of us were fooled into thinking some measure of normalcy had returned to the chaos that had engulfed the White House since Trump took office.
Trump is right about one thing—I have a concerns about being a male—but not because of women.
As October began, Trump was feeling his oats and started the month with an impromptu news conference in the Rose Garden where, no matter what time of year it is, it is always sunny and at least 90 degrees. A couple of television technicians got a nice sunburn and the rest of us removed our suit coats as we waited to discuss how this administration has a great new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. “Merely committing to changing the acronym doesn’t make it a great agreement,” said many Democratic Congressmen who also said going from NAFTA to USMCA was only a boon for those who printed the letterhead.

But, the press corps was ready to hear what the president had to say. Of course since we gathered in his name and there was love, we all wanted to ask about:
  • Judge Brett “I Still Like Beer!” Kavanaugh
  • The accusations about multiple sexual assaults
  • Squi
  • Whether or not Senator Lindsey Graham was grandstanding to get a job as Attorney General
  • Those high school house parties
  • All the alleged lies Kavanaugh told the Senate
  • What, if any, limits the White House had imposed on the FBI supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh's past
Trump, who rarely enough talks to the open press in a news conference environment, was comfortable and talkative. There was the usual accusation that we were “fake news” and then Trump accused us all of being Democrats before he decided to answer only questions about trade. Cecilia Vega from ABC, Peter Alexander from NBC and myself tried in vain to get him to talk about Kavanaugh. Trump refused. He accused Vega of not thinking, told me to sit down when I was already sitting (when I protested, it garnered a laugh from several members of his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence). He told Alexander to stifle his actions and when CNN’s Kaitlin Collins tried to ask him questions, he said “that’s enough.”
While rude to all of us, he was particularly dismissive to female reporters, but we took it in stride as, well after all, he was actually talking to the open press in a news conference. I tried to remain civil, but was upset with myself afterward for not pressing Trump harder. Maybe, since he likes to makes deals, I could’ve convinced him to take one question on Kavanaugh and two on the new NAFTA. Probably not, but any chance to ask the president a real question is worth the gamble.

Granted, the Rose Garden news conference was as factually deprived as any other conversation in any other setting in which the president speaks. He told us that the Great Depression began in 1928. “Forget it. He’s rolling,” someone said in response to the quip, which made us all think of John Belushi’s sermon in Animal House. Trump also misquoted economic facts. He was, in other words, the Trump we’ve all seen for the last year and a half.

Still, his appearance gave us a small ray of hope. On Tuesday, another small sliver came as he left for one of his mind-numbing rallies. Gathered on the South Lawn with a gaggle of reporters, including Alexander and Major Garrett from CBS, we waited for Trump to walk out of the Oval Office and on to Marine One. “I’d rather he did this than a dozen Sarah Huckabee Sanders news briefings,” someone offered. Others agreed. After all we’re there to cover Donald Trump, not Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump doesn’t do drugs, or so he claims, so the adulation of the crowds is the only way to get that good endorphin rush to which he apparently is addicted.
Trump then walked over to the throng of reporters and took questions for about the length of time Sanders spends on one of her daily/monthly press briefings. He answered inquiries into just about everything, and took two or three from me on Kavanaugh. But for the second day in a row, he didn’t take any questions on whether or not he had any empathy for Dr. Ford—a question I tried to ask him at his news conference and the one I shouted at him three times while he was on the South Lawn. He didn’t take that, but seemed eager to talk about Kavanaugh’s drinking habit, which Trump, a non-drinker, described as “normal.”

He compared Kavanaugh to himself. “I am abnormal,” Trump explained in a sentence that caused more than one raised eyebrow and a few chuckles from the press corps. He defended Senator Graham, whom he characterized as a “great friend for the last six months.”

“He’s definitely going to be the next Attorney General,” someone smirked as Trump blew a wet kiss Graham’s way. Toward the end, Trump reiterated that he has never tried beer or alcohol. “Did you ever try anything else?” I asked. He smiled and chuckled. “No,” he said as he pointed his finger at me. “I never did.” With that he excused himself.

Later, when about a dozen or so reporters watched the playback of the video in the briefing room, it got additional chuckles. I pumped my fist and took a bow. “Thank you. Thank you. The highlight of my career in asking this,” I smiled.

It was the most human moment I’d seen from Trump in more than a year and a half covering him. It also gave me insight into his public rallies. Those things are like a narcotic to him. He doesn’t do drugs, or so he claims, so the adulation of the crowds is the only way to get that good endorphin rush to which he apparently is addicted.
So there was this small bit of hope over two days at the White House in which the president answered more of my questions than he’d done in six months. Of course, that sliver of hope died once Trump went to Mississippi that night and made fun of, mocked and dismissed Dr. Ford. He focused instead on white male bonding and frat boy douchebaggery.

“Think of your son, think of your husband,” Trump told a mostly white crowd at one of his patented MAGA rallies. Men, he said, are being unfairly targeted. To be fair, he also said it on the South Lawn, but he really worked himself into a frenzy with it at his rally. He said nothing about victims of sexual assaults, but those who are accused of sexual assaults are the true victims in this upside down world.

Men, he told us, are under fire from a bunch of people who want to hold them accountable for what they do—to the point they’ll make up things to do it. Trump is right about one thing—I am concerned about being a male—but not because of women. I have a concern about men because of men like Donald Trump.

Senator Graham came out and in lockstep with the president declared that the whole Kavanaugh process has energized the Republican Party. I have to wonder, Senator Graham: What part of a private citizen coming forward to allege a sexual assault and then being used as a political football “energizes” you?

Even Kavanaugh, in his attempt to deflect and deny he ever drank too much or blacked out didn’t doubt Dr. Ford. He acknowledged he believed she had been assaulted, only that it wasn't he who committed the assault. But Graham and the president took the ball and ran much further. A few times I thought Graham might burst into tears or flames and kneel at Kavanaugh’s feet, shouting, “I am not worthy!”

The president merely treated Dr. Ford as a liar while continuing to praise a Supreme Court nominee who threatened revenge against the Democrats, repeatedly told us how much he liked beer and lied to us about sexual euphemisms by referring to them as either flatulence or drinking games. By Wednesday, Sanders was back in the briefing room calling reporters liars and backing the president’s ill-conceived insults hurled at Dr. Ford.

“I don’t have a problem stating facts,” she exclaimed. “I know that’s something you probably do have a problem with.” By Thursday the FBI investigation was completed and Senator Mitch McConnell held it in a super-secret sound-proof booth, or perhaps former EPA director Scott Pruitt’s “Cone of Silence.”

The Republicans came out after reading the FBI report and announced the matter settled. The Democrats got rattled. McConnell set the final vote in the Senate. Trump was back calling Kavanaugh a decent man, the Democrats “evil”, reporters “fake” and the United States the greatest its ever been. Then the administration announced new limits on refugees, ignored the problems of immigrant detention, gave up trying to find The New York Times anonymous op-ed writer while denouncing an 18-month investigation into Trump’s taxes published by the Times. Somewhere a dog barked. A chicken cackled and a Democrat howled. The ray of hope was gone. Trump was back like a zombie on speed, ready to chew through the countryside and daring anyone to take him out.

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