sexta-feira, 17 de fevereiro de 2017

Donald Trump's press conference is proof he'll never be presidential / Trump's anti-press conference would be funny – if it weren't so scary

‘They will say, Donald Trump rants and raves,’ the US president told reporters in a blistering 77-minute question-and-answer session that covered Russia, intelligence leaks, the firing of Michael Flynn – and uncomfortable encounters with reporters on the issues of antisemitism and race.

Donald Trump's press conference is proof he'll never be presidential
Trump spent his first solo press conference as president berating the press and dodging any serious questions – and none of it is ever going to be normal

Ben Jacobs in Washington
Friday 17 February 2017 07.13 GMT

It was an exhausting 77-minute extravaganza, and any five-minute segment would have been enough to make front-page headlines around the world.

For the president of the United States, the simple act of sneezing can be newsworthy. When the president goes on a freeform monologue, occasionally interrupted by questions, that is almost the length of a motion picture, as Donald Trump did on Thursday, the news can be overwhelming. The entirety represents a deluge that is difficult to process.

Trump said he wasn’t “ranting and raving” during his press conference, and that was correct. The president was confidently unhinged as he spent more than an hour berating the press and boasting without any real basis that “there has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time”.

The press conference, nominally called to announce the nomination of Alexander Acosta to be secretary of labor, represented the first opportunity for reporters to ask the president about a series of stories about his administration’s ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Trump responded by focusing on the real enemy – the media. In fact, at times, it felt that the press conference focused more on CNN correspondent Jim Acosta than Alexander Acosta (Trump even made sure to check with the CNN correspondent that the two weren’t related) as the president prosecuted his case against CNN. Often, Trump seemed to be in a time capsule, railing against Hillary Clinton and reusing entire paragraphs of rhetoric that he had once directed against her while campaigning for the White House.

The result was a spectacle that was sheer entertainment if not terribly presidential. It was more comedian Henny Youngman than president William Henry Harrison as Trump needled reporters and engaged in a brand of insult comedy that was familiar from the campaign trail. At times, reporters couldn’t help but laugh at the president’s jabs despite their best instincts, simply because Trump’s comments were just that wacky and bizarre.

At times, the interactions with reporters went beyond combative into a Twilight Zone. Trump told an Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked him about an upsurge in antisemitic incidents that he had asked “a very insulting question”. He later suggested to an African American reporter who had asked about whether Trump had consulted with the Congressional Black Caucus about his plan for inner cities that she should organize the meeting. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” the president asked the reporter about an influential bloc of congressmen.

Trump suggested that “drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars”; insisted he only claimed falsely at the beginning of the press conference that he had won “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan” (in fact George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all won more electoral college votes) because he “was given bad information”; and opined in detail on CNN’s programming and ratings in its 10pm hour.

And there was an abundance of hard news. He insisted that “we had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban” despite all evidence and announced a new executive order on the topic was coming next week. He assailed all reports on his aides’ ties to Russia as “a ruse” and “fake” while conceding that the cascade of leaks on the subject was real. He said he had fired his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, because “he didn’t tell our vice-president properly” about his calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak but insisted that there was nothing improper about making the calls. “I would have directed him to do it if he wasn’t doing it, because that’s his job.” And he hedged on Barack Obama’s controversial Daca program for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.

During the election campaign, Trump would routinely make half a dozen statements at a single rally that might prove fatal to any other candidate. It was hard for the media to focus on a single issue then, when Trump was still an outsider and an underdog.

Today, some might focus on Trump’s statements on Russia or his attacks on the media. Others might focus on his outright lies and bizarre claims. But there can only be one takeaway from the press conference – Trump may have become president, but he will never be presidential. It has only been 27 days since the president took office. There are still at least three years and 11 months left to go, and it is never going to be normal.

Trump's anti-press conference would be funny – if it weren't so scary
Richard Wolffe
Friday 17 February 2017 07.13 GMT

If Donald Trump is qualified for any job – and that’s a rather big if, based on this press conference – it’s clear that he wants to be a media critic on Fox News

Watching Donald Trump’s freak show of a press conference, it’s painfully clear that we have all made a terrible mistake.

For the last several months we all thought we were watching the presidential version of Celebrity Apprentice. Trump was going to walk into our living rooms, fire somebody at random, and then happily walk out.

In fact, we have our shows all mixed up. This is actually a very long season of The Office, with our new president playing the role of a self-obsessed buffoon who clearly thinks he’s smart, funny, kind and successful.

Trump is the boss we all know so well, and never want to see again. The one winging it at every turn, in every sentence. The one who just read something, or talked to somebody, and is now an Olympic-sized expert.

“I have been briefed,” he declared, as he explained what passes for his poodle-like policy towards Vladimir Putin.

“And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Coming from the mouth of Ricky Gervais or Steve Carell, this might be rather funny. But as we know from the guests at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump travels with military aides who carry real nuclear codes.

It’s great that he’s reading the most basic books about that nuclear holocaust. Who knew it could be so awful to obliterate the planet?

He’s also been reading about uranium, which is cool. It’s best if he explains this one in his own words: “You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons, like lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things.”

But enough with all the briefings about bad things. Let’s get to the important stuff that President Trump wanted to tell us.

In theory, the press conference was called to reveal the name of the all-important Labor Secretary, whose identity will only get recalled on Jeopardy. He’s replacing the guy who quit after a reporter dug up the video tape of his ex-wife on Oprah. Talk about a bad hombre.

But all that was just a bait-and-switch for the real subject of Trump’s obsession: himself. In painful detail, the president took the trouble to explain his thought process in real time, as problems bubble up to the thing that sits under his combover.

Most White House reporters and presidential historians long for this kind of insight: how does a commander-in-chief deal with a crisis? What is his decision-making approach to all the world’s challenges?

Sadly in Trump’s case, it turns out the answers are astonishingly simple.

Let’s consider the first big test of Trump’s management of this branch office of the paper company: the strange firing of General Mike Flynn, formerly one of his closest and craziest advisers, handling bad things like uranium.

“As far as the general’s concerned, when I first heard about it, I said huh, that doesn’t sound wrong. My counsel came, Don McGahn, White House counsel, and he told me and I asked him, he can speak very well for himself. He said he doesn’t think anything is wrong, you know, really didn’t think.”

So now we have two people in the Oval Office who think, kind of: huh, nothing wrong with talking to the Russians and lying about it.

But let’s hear more from the 45th president: “I waited a period of time and I started to think about it, I said “well I don’t see” — to me, he was doing the job.”

So even after a period of reflection, Trump still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. (Note to the nervous: good to know he waits before he acts.)

“The information was provided by — who I don’t know, Sally Yates,” he explained, unclear or unimpressed by his acting attorney general, a career official who earned her last promotion with bipartisan support. “And I was a little surprised because I said “doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.” But he did something wrong with respect to the vice president and I thought that was not acceptable.”

So that’s clear. Trump fired Flynn for doing something wrong to Mike Pence even though he did his job well. That “something wrong” would be lying about something totally fine, in Trump’s view. But why is Trump so confident that this isn’t such a big deal? “As far as the actual making the call,” he told the nation, “in fact I’ve watched various programs and I’ve read various articles where he was just doing his job.”

If Donald Trump is qualified for any job – and that’s a rather big if, based on this press conference – it’s clear that he wants to be a media critic on Fox News.

In his considered analysis, the state of the media today is just astonishing. “Russia is fake news,” he declared, dismissing the investigations that will engulf his entire presidency, if not a whole country. “Russia – this is fake news put out by the media.”

This kind of fakery is, Trump suggested, cooked up in part by Obama hangovers whom he will likely root out of government in due course. In the meantime, the great revelation for the commander-in-chief is that The Wall Street Journal is just as bad as The New York Times. “I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest,” he revealed, before encouraging reporters to bypass his hapless press secretary.

“But I will say that I never get phone calls from the media,” he said, sounding more than a little hurt. “How did they write a story like that in The Wall Street Journal without asking me, or how did they write a story in The New York Times, put it on front page?”

How indeed. The Guardian will happily accept the president’s help any time he can fit us into his obviously empty schedule. We have another story going out today, if that’s OK.

To be sure, there are many pundits who think this kind of circus plays well in Trump Country. The rust belt surely loves this kind of braggadocious presidency combined with constant media bashing.

Of course, the American version of The Office was set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, so maybe there’s something to that argument. Much like the epic mockumentary, it’s clear that President Ricky Gervais has no idea how unintentionally funny he is. The only difference is that this boss is armed with uranium and he has no idea what to do now. Which means the joke is really on us.

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