If you watched President Donald Trump’s daily press briefing Monday, you know that even by his abysmal standards this was the loudest siren yet, a warning that the man occupying the Oval Office is more suited to a very long, involuntary stay in an inpatient mental-health facility than the presidency of the United States.
It wasn’t presidential leadership. It wasn’t executive power made manifest. It wasn’t a grown-ass adult facing a serious crisis. It was an angry, needy man not looking outward to the needs of a nation in crisis but inward, and downward.
Anyone—and I mean anyone—who tells you Monday’s presser was anything other than a complete meltdown shitshow on the top of the dumpster fire at the peak of Burning-Tire Mountain is a liar.
It was a manic, gibbering, squint-eyed ragefest by America’s Worst President, a petty display by a failed man who long ago passed the limits of his competence and knowledge. It left little to cling to for even his most fervent lackeys but the grunting media animus that replaced conservatism as the motivating force of the Republican Party.
There was no there there when it came to facing the most consequential national crisis in generations. Even the parts about actions by the government were just mummery to frame his desperate desire for more stroking of his delicate feels. Everything is incidental to his delicate feelings and ego. Everything—and, more importantly, everyone else—is incidental.
Trump just gave the nation a performance that was so manic, so furious, and so utterly unhinged that anyone watching it walked away thinking the 25th Amendment has been too long unexercised and the proof is behind the podium every damn day.
What you saw was the real Trump, unbound by facts, reason, logic, the law, or the Constitution, a petty bitch picking petty fights with reporters, a bard of his own songs of grievance and anger.
It wasn’t just the campaign video the White House tried to air—kudos to the networks who cut away—in a desperate attempt to rewrite the history of his delays, deceptions, and denials in the wake of COVID-19. That alone would have been remarkable in some other era. It wasn’t the fake-heroic narrative rewrite that only he saw the danger coming.
All of that was expected. He’s a desperate, day-trading gambler, fumbling for any hook to change the inevitable judgment of history sweeping toward him like an implacable wave. His mistakes are measured in lives. His hubris and self-interest are tallied in stacks of body bags and a daily death count that surpasses our capacity for grief and belief. His two months of lies led to a wrecked economy and a wave of financial despair that will make people crave the tender mercies of the Great Depression.
There were two big reveals Monday. First, Trump’s sweeping—and by sweeping I mean in the same way that a meteor the size of Texas once smacked into the Gulf of Mexico and killed all life on Earth above the cellular level—claim of absolute, total, super-duper extra-strong bigly executive power.
The second reveal is driven by the first. Trump is determined to ignore not only federalism and the 10th Amendment but also expertise, medical science, epidemiology, virology, and common fucking sense in his race to “reopen” the economy. His lineup of lackeys, has-beens, and economic edge cases will likely not be remembered for their bold plan to get the economy out of the ditch into which Trump plunged it, but rather for their utter inability to do, well, anything.
Looking like a low-rent strip-mall law firm—Dullard, Trifle & Mook, perhaps—Trump’s economic recovery squad isn’t a team of rivals but a team of trivials with the baseline understanding that Washington and New York media still fall for the trappings of normalcy even though every decision is still predicated on L’Etat c’est Trump.
Had President Barack Obama said “If somebody is president of the United States, their authority is total,” I can assure you that every conservative in America would have lost their goddamn mind. Pitchforks. Torches. Hot and cold running impeachment trials.
This would have led to an explosion of so much fury that entire forests would have been felled to produce the newsprint for millions of words of bloody-eyed indignation. Nuclear-power plants would have to be opened up and down the coast to power the outrage machine.
What was once a fundamental tenet of conservatism—that executive power must be bounded, limited, and prevented from expansion even for seemingly meritorious reasons—will of course now be thrown into the shitter of history by the Trump propaganda machine. Very few “conservatives” will say a damn thing about it. The very same people who consistently decried Obama’s executive overreach will be utterly silent—or even more predictably will be out there shaking their pom poms and swishing their pleated skirts cheering on Trump’s wild overreach on the powers of the executive.
This is of course par for the course of what Trump really is. I’ve said it from the start. He’s not a conservative, he’s a narcissistic authoritarian statist, and Monday was a big fat QED for even the slow children in the class. Nothing about this man was ever conservative.
What Trump described Monday was a lot closer to monarchy than a representative democracy. We know this about the man: He fetishizes royalty, strongmen, dictators, kings, warlords, and others who don’t have to work within the bounds of a representative democracy or a republican form of government bound by a constitution and laws.
Burn this truth into your mind: The best-case scenario from Monday’s press conference is that Trump is out of his damn mind, wrong on the law, wrong on the Constitution, and wrong on the intent of the Founders as to the power of the chief executive. The best case will mean his insistence that he can “reopen the economy” will be smothered by one crisis after the next, a victim of the pace of events and a staff that realizes he’s crazier than a shithouse rat.
The worst-case scenario—and in this administration, always plan for the worst-case scenario—is not only that Trump really believes what he said about executive power but his supine attorney general will immediately work with the White House counsel to codify it and make Trump’s dream of unchecked power a reality. In that case, expect the Senate Republicans to grow a spine and demand… almost had you there, didn’t I?
It’s a common trope among conservatives to talk about the intent of the Founders. Monday should be a reminder that those Founders approached executive power with enormous caution and were diligent in the creation of a constitutional system in which no branch held “absolute authority.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total” would have left them wondering just why we threw off the yoke of monarchy in the first place, and whether today’s leaders remembered and understood the intent of their creation.
When authority is total, so too is the madness of the man who declares it, and the potential for abuse of power.