On Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump held his first full press conference as president and in all my years of writing about national politics, I’ve never seen a political event so disturbing.
Trump called Russia “fake news.” He said his administration is “running like a fine-tuned machine.” He described the rollout of his immigration executive order, which has been stayed by a federal court, as “very smooth.” He said the leaks that led Michael Flynn to resign as national security adviser are real, but the “news is fake.” He claimed that drugs in America are becoming “cheaper than candy bars.” He said, “nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” When confronted with his repeated lie about the size of his electoral victory he offered this defense: “I was given that information.”
He falsely stated that Hillary Clinton gave Russia 20 percent of all US uranium. He berated a Jewish reporter for asking him an “unfriendly” question about rising anti-Semitism and then declared he’s the “least anti-Semitic person in the world.” He also said he was the “least racist person” before asking an African-American reporter if she could set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and asked “are they friends of yours?” He said the city of Chicago was in worse shape than the Middle East.
And he insulted the media repeatedly. He derided CNN as “very fake news,” called a BBC reporter “another beauty,’’ said the “level of dishonesty” from the media was “out of control,” and according to Globe reporter Astead W. Herndon, delivered 35 media-related insults.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Trump lied, he exaggerated, he bullied, he berated, he lied some more, and he ranted and raved incoherently. It was like watching a guy on a street corner, wearing a sandwich board, complaining about socialism. Trump’s performance might play well with his base of supporters, but we’re well past the point at which that matters. And what does it say about his supporters that they continue to be so unbothered by his bizarre behavior.
On Thursday, Trump offered yet another reminder that no matter his political appeal, he is unqualified and temperamentally unsuited to be president.
Trump simply is incapable of understanding the difference between truth and lie. Every slight, every criticism, every reference to his administration is seen through the lens of his ego. Indeed, Trump simply doesn’t know how to exist outside of his own fragile self-esteem. Even when asked a question about rising incidents of anti-Semitism and dozens of bomb threats being made against Jewish community centers, Trump talked about how he’s insulted by the question, isn’t anti-Semitic, and had a great electoral victory. The answer was all about Trump’s hurt feelings and at no time did he express concern or even condemn anti-Semitic incidents.
There are so many reasons to be concerned, even panicked, about Donald Trump as president — the dysfunctional White House; the purges at crucial government agencies; an emerging crackdown on undocumented immigrants; the fact that Trump has nominated just 34 people for the 696 executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation; the Russia connection; the kleptocratic corruption; the ascendancy of white nationalists (Steve Bannon), dishonest authoritarian-minded advisers (Stephen Miller), unrepentant fabulists (Kellyanne Conway), and unqualified family members (Jared Kushner) to positions of extraordinary political and policy influence.
All of these are highly worrisome. But the real story here is the small, angry, insecure, impulse control-challenged narcissist sitting in the Oval Office — and the extraordinary damage that his personal behavior could do to the country and the world.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears reguarly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.