The Press Conference

All you need to know is this: there is and always will be only one Donald Trump. Thinking that he can or will suddenly become fit to be President is like thinking that a paraplegic will leap from his wheel chair at any moment. Just as a damaged spinal cord disables a person from walking, Trump’s life-long severe narcissistic personality disorder disables him from accepting any truth that contradicts the narrative of his greatness, taking advice, or behaving in public in any manner that is remotely appropriate for a head of state. It’s not going to happen because it cannot happen. Character is destiny and the flaws in Mr. Trump’s character are so deep that his presidency is destined to be – at best - a chaotic lurid spectacle.

All this was apparent prior to the election. And to those who indulged in the fantasy that he might change, it should be apparent now that he will not. If you still have doubts, just watch the video of yesterday’s bizarre and terrifying press conference.

In September, I wrote that Trump world is “a type of theater of the absurd, in which the boundaries of the possible dissolve. It is the world of the preposterous.” Is there a better word to describe the nonsense which we face daily? The White House said five days ago “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.” What can you say other than preposterous. Yesterday the President said “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.” He has already made the world a better place through his “great conversations” with foreign leaders. Yup, a few incoherent phone calls from the Donald and the world is already a safer place. Plants and factories “are already starting to move back into the United States, and big league.” “Jobs have already started to surge.” And he solved the problem of attacks on cops, “directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence.” That is sure to do the trick. 

Perhaps most revealing at yesterday’s news conference was his defense of his incorrect assertion about his Electoral College margin of victory being the biggest since Reagan: “I'm skipping that information, I don't know, I was just given . . .Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given -- I actually, I've seen that information around.” And there you have it. We have a President who makes public assertions about matters of objective fact based on “I’ve seen that information around.” It is shocking when he states it so plainly, but no one should be surprised. Many of the core arguments of his campaign were based on information he saw around the dark fringes of the Internet, such as Breitbart. And now the purveyors of that information sit in the West Wing, having discredited and marginalized the 16 intelligence agencies on which a president usually relies, giving the man the false facts required to feed his voracious vanity, indifferent to whether it becomes apparent to the world that the President of the United States lives in a world of fantasy and misinformation.   

And Mr. Bannon is not the only person who has learned how to manipulate our President. Trump said this in response to the stew of Russia related issues that has already brought down his National Security Advisor: “President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that's the extent. Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media.” Got it? Putin flattered him twice, nicely and then extremely nicely, including taking his side on the question of whether the inauguration was the best ever, so all the rest is fake news. 

In a moment that gave me hope for the future of journalism, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked the obvious question: “You said that the leaks [regarding the Russia connections] are real but the news [that is, the reporting of the leaked information] is fake. I guess I don't understand. It seems that there's a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake.” In a bit of revealing mental gymnastics, the President replied, “the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” You understand? It’s really not so complicated. The media (other than Fox) are dishonest enemies. This is what makes their reporting about Trump “fake,” not the truth or falsehood of their reports.

There is one advantage to the man’s off-the-cuff style; it tends to be much more revealing about what he believes and how he thinks than the carefully prepared statements of most presidents. Consider this: “Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It's a disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.” Where to start? Were that it was merely incoherent ranting. But it’s not. Among the possible insights into the man’s mind: People who need health insurance are homeless people in alleys? Homeless people in alleys “got there” through some conspiracy? But the people who need insurance are not, in any case, Republicans? And therefore it doesn’t matter because Republican control means that the House is now representing only Republicans? Unfiltered Trump is the real Trump.

Finally, an attack on the press and the courts, really the only two institutions in our democracy that stand in his way, was woven through the long press conference. These were the themes to which he returned in his answers to many unrelated questions. Most ominously, he announced yesterday that the press is “out of control” and we have to “find out what is going on,” which I took as a promise to use the tools available to the Federal government to investigate and then solve the problem. As I argued in my book Christian Nation, authoritarians usually announce in advance exactly what they will do and then do it. As the narrator says, looking back from a future where American democracy has been lost, “They said what they would do and we did not listen.  And then they did what they said they would do.”


When we decided to publish Getting to Green during the 2016 presidential primary season, we anticipated that figures such as Jeb Bush would be serious contenders, leading an effort within the party to frame a GOP platform that included more mainstream positions on climate change and the environment. Despite strong support from many corners of the party for conservatives to pursue a strategy of engagement rather than denial, the Trump revolution destroyed any chance of a serious discussion of environmental policy during the primaries or at the convention.

Following the election, however, Republicans will face the task of shaping the party or parties that emerge from the rubble of Trumpism. Many will advocate that the new GOP reject the voices of the far right that have forced the party to maintain positions on the environment that the party "establishment" has understood for some time now need to be modernized to achieve electoral success in the decades ahead. I believe that the first half of 2017 will present the best opportunity in a generation for conservatives to revisit their anomalous quarter-century of opposition to conservation, and my plan is to resume an ambitious schedule of events and appearances in support of this goal toward the end of the first quarter.

Because my main objective this year has been to promote Getting to Green’s call for bipartisan cooperation on the environment, I have refrained from making comments that could be construed as partisan. The time has come, however, when silence regarding the forthcoming election is no longer a morally supportable option.   

Accordingly, for the balance of this year, this blog will focus on the issues presented by Donald Trump’s candidacy. Many of these comments will be informed by my research and writing of Christian Nation, which anticipated the rise of a populist demagogue on the right, explored the circumstances under which such a candidate could prevail in an election (many of which circumstances are the same ones that have propelled Donald Trump), and then showed why our constitution and courts might not provide the barrier we assume between such a demagogue and the implementation of his or her program. My next book involves a main character with a pathological lack of empathy and explores how our popular and political cultures reflect the current epidemic of narcissism. My research and thinking about these subjects also inform my perspective on the Trump phenomenon. I hope readers of my books will find that this blog does what my books aim to do: offer an independent, historically informed, non-partisan, and pragmatic perspective on topical issues with a moral and political dimension.