September 3, 2019

MINDHUNTING:

Trump's Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August (Susan B. Glasser, 9/03/19, The New Yorker)

To revisit a month in the life of this President was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place. And, while Trump's performance raised many questions that we can't answer about just what is going on in his head, it was also revelatory: the thirty-one days of August, 2019, turn out to be an extraordinary catalogue of Trump's in-our-faces meltdown.

At first I wasn't sure that anything about Trump's frenetic August was really different. There had been many previous months of dysfunction. He has always courted controversy and trafficked in insults. But then I looked at August, 2017, during the first summer of his Presidency, which was one of the more shocking months of his early tenure. Back then, Trump warned of "fire and fury" against North Korea and spoke of good people on both sides of the white-supremacist march in Charlottesville that culminated in the killing of a peaceful counter-protester. And yet the Trump of two years ago was different--to a degree. He was provocative and insulting and fact-challenged, of course, but to a much lesser extent than he is today. Then and now, he was boastful and braggadocious. He picked fights. But there was much less of that behavior over all--the Trump Twitter archive records two hundred and eighty-seven Trump tweets and retweets in August, 2017, compared to six hundred and eighty in August, 2019--and the volume seems to have been turned up along with the frequency. Today's Trump is not just more prone to misspeaking and stumbling, he is also more overtly confrontational more of the time, more immersed in a daily cycle of Presidential punditry, and more casually incendiary with his words and sentiments.

Is he finding it harder to break through? Does he simply have fewer meetings on his schedule and more free time? Maybe it is all of the above. Trump has such little confidence in his third and current chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, that he's still not removed Mulvaney's title of "acting" White House boss, more than eight months into his tenure. It's also true that the outrage cycle that his Presidency has become requires more fuel than it did two years ago, when the wacky pronouncements and shrill insults emanating directly from the Oval Office were still seen as a shocking novelty. Sure enough, the anger and abuse have dramatically and notably increased. Two years ago, Trump used his feed to criticize, belittle, or humiliate specific targets fourteen times in the month of August. (Interestingly, many were Republican senators who were still offering him resistance, including "publicity-seeking Lindsey Graham," who is now one of his most faithful public promoters; and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, whom Trump disparaged as a "loser.") In August of this year, the number shot up: the President made or shared fifty-two direct insults on his Twitter feed, by my count. Many were aimed at individual members of the media--from "Crazy Lawrence O'Donnell," of MSNBC, to "Lunatic" Chris Cuomo, of CNN, to "Psycho" Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, and "pathetic" Juan Williams, of Fox. Other targets who were singled out included "the Three Stooges running against me in the G.O.P. primary"; Denmark; nato; the euro; "car company executives"; "Sleepy Joe Biden" (August 10th: "Does anybody really believe he is mentally fit to be President?"); Beto O'Rourke; liberal Hollywood, "the true racists"; the "anti-Semite" Representative Rashida Tlaib; the "nut job" Anthony Scaramucci, the former Trump White House communications director who finally broke with his former boss last month; and, in a retweet to start off the month, "the nipple-height mayor of Londonistan."

Another frequent target was the Federal Reserve and its Trump-appointed chairman, Jerome Powell. For months, Trump has been crusading against Powell in what appears to be an unprecedented public-pressure campaign to turn the Fed into an arm of the President's reëlection campaign. In August, Trump's focus on the Fed dramatically escalated, as fears mounted about a slowing economy and the intensifying trade war with China. I counted thirty separate tweets by Trump in August criticizing Powell or the Fed, in which the President variously referred to "clueless Jay Powell," complained about Powell's "horrendous lack of vision," and, most strikingly, on August 23rd, blamed the Fed for China's alleged currency manipulation. On that day, Trump tweeted, "My only question is who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?" [...]

Like his insults, Trump's praise has become more flamboyant, and the list of those whom he Twitter-flattered this August included populist nationalists, such as India's Narendra Modi and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro; the "great leader" and "good man" Xi Jinping, of China; and the shambolic and duplicitous new pro-Brexit British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The naïveté of his praise is sometimes as alarming as the vitriol of his hatred. On August 15th, with fears rising of a Chinese crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, Trump tweeted, "If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!" On August 10th, he revealed a letter from Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean dictator "very nicely" asked for a meeting while offering a "small apology" for his latest missile tests and claimed that the tests would end when U.S.-South Korean military exercises did (they did not).

Posted by at September 3, 2019 6:00 PM

  

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