Is it just me or does Donald Trump seem a bit stranger than usual? Admittedly he’s always off-kilter, jumping from topic-to-topic, like a pinball ricocheting around. Yet over the past 72 hours, in several interviews surrounding his administration reaching the 100-day mark, Trump’s responses have achieved new heights in rambling incoherence.
In an interview on Sirius XM’s P.O.T.U.S. channel, Trump said he didn’t understand why the Civil War was fought and that it wouldn’t have happened, “had Andrew Jackson been a little later.” Evidently Trump believes that Jackson, a pre-eminent plantation slave owner of the time, would have magically talked the South down to prevent the war, and for good measure added he himself could have cut a deal to pre-empt the conflict.
Considering Jackson died a decade and a half before the Civil War, critics immediately took issue with Trump’s historical accuracy. Aaron Blake, with the “Washington Post,” called Trump’s grasp of history “totally bizarre.”
Being that the underlying issue triggering the Civil War was the expansion of slavery, with Southern states seeking the continued right to own slaves and secede from the Union – I’ll bet good folding money neither Jackson or Trump could reason that foolishness away.
“White supremacists, lost causers and states-rights activists could latch onto this,” said David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale University. “I don’t know if Trump even knows he’s doing it. You can be too ignorant to know you’re ignorant.”
Things got stranger yet in a televised interview with John Dickerson of CBS News. Responding to questions about changes in the healthcare legislation being revisited for passage, Trump said the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare “guarantees” coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions – which runs counter to how the bill being pushed through Congress is currently written.
“Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘has to be,'” Trump told Dickerson. “We actually have a clause that ‘guarantees’ coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”
That sounds definitive, but is misleading and certainly not in the same blanket manner the Affordable Care Act protects these individuals from discrimination due to their medical conditions.
After the original failure by Republicans to even get their alternative to Obamacare on the floor for a vote, a deal was cut between the Freedom Caucus to require insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, but provisions were included to allow insurers to charge higher premiums for them and this leaves the population vulnerable to gaps in coverage. Republicans want to set up “high risk pools” for those with pre-existing conditions, but estimates from AARP project premiums in the high risk pools could cost as much as $25,700 per year.
Trump clearly doesn’t know the details in his own plan and was left trying to appease several opposing constituencies of healthcare reform by spouting half-truths. And then this interview got super strange.
With continuing reputational damage lingering from Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that Obama surveilled Trump Tower, Dickerson took advantage of his access to get an updated response from the president.
This goes back to Trump’s ill fated tweet on March 4, 2017 @ 7:02AM: “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or Sick) guy!”
It was a straightforward question from Dickerson. Did Trump stand by his claim that Obama was a “Bad (or sick) guy!”?
Trump’s epic reply, “I don’t stand by anything. I think our side’s been proven very strongly.” Dickerson pushed for a more full throated response aside from being told to interpret it himself, since Trump claims “Fake News” for anything critical of his administration.
This was too hard hitting for The Trumpster. He walked away from Dickerson in a dismissive fashion, defeated, ending the interview and going back to his desk. “Okay it’s enough,” Trump said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
From this disaster Trump moved on to satisfying his peculiar fascination with strongmen leaders. As intense as the standoff with North Korea is over its development of nuclear weapons and launching of missile tests, Trump swang from alluding to a possible major conflict with this rogue nation as of last week, to Monday calling Kim Jong-Un, the violent North Korean dictator, “a pretty smart cookie,” and noted he would be honored to meet with him.
Trump wasn’t done with his strongman love. There was also high praise for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been on a binge of late, executing his constituency in the streets if suspected of involvement with drugs. This is part of President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign that Human Rights Watch has estimated led to the deaths of at least 7,000 Filipinos, usually at the hands of local police. Duterte himself has bragged about personally gunning down people when he was a mayor. Usually this would get a leader ostracized, but with Trump it earned admiration and resulted in an invitation to the White House.
Hard to say if this is merely another poor decision making binge for Trump or the beginning of a downward spiral. Considering his grasp of the entertainment industry and inherent ability to frame a moment, it would be out of character to stumble so completely with all the attention surrounding the administration reaching its 100-day mark.
It more likely is the weight and responsibility of the office finally settling upon his shoulders. There is nothing easy about being president, and few calm days. This isn’t like playing CEO, where what the boss says goes. Congress and the courts don’t have to listen to Trump. Elected officials answer to the people, same as the president. With all the political polarization, combined with Trump’s lack of focus and poor execution, it’s been near impossible to get his arms around this job.
Reports are that Trump is having trouble sleeping, and I can understand why. The man has run his mouth for two years now about how easy it would be for him to change Washington, and how tired the American people would be from all the “winning” he would bring forward once elected. That has not transpired. Legislation has been poorly constructed and not properly marketed to Congress or the American people. Now testimony will crank back up in the House Intelligence Committee about Trump ties to Russia.
Republicans are being quoted as saying they try hard not to listen to what comes out of the president’s mouth because it gets harder and harder to justify supporting such an undisciplined and careless leader. This begs the question of why follow such a man?
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, is now having to devote a chunk of his daily press briefings to backtracking in an effort to explain what jackass-stupid thing Trump has said, in an attempt to realign the erroneous commentary with existing U.S. policy.
In fits of frustration Trump takes to Twitter and blasts out threats and lies like a petulant child, such as Tuesday’s tweet from the president that has all Republicans running for cover: “Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”
This relates to the recent budget deal that will be voted on today. Apparently Trump took this as a victory before actually reading the details. Aside from increased military spending, the majority of these monetary initiatives are Democratic priorities, and ones Trump steadfastly insisted would not be funded, such as Planned Parenthood and $2 billion to the National Institutes of Health. Most importantly there is no money allocated for any border wall or deportation stormtroopers.
Realizing Democrats were celebrating a budget victory Tuesday, Trump sent out Mick Mulvaney, director of OMB, to try and explain how a border wall that was not being funded was actually being built – but not really. In the end both Mulvaney and Spicer exited the briefing abruptly without taking questions – in a walk of shame.
“It seems to be among the most bizarre recent 24 hours in American presidential history,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential scholar. “It was all just surreal disarray and a confused mental state from the president.”