In the space of the last 48 hours, Donald Trump has:
- Retweeted three anti-Muslim videos from a far-right group based in Britain.
- Sent two tweets not only using the firing of NBC’s Matt Lauer to bash so-called “fake news” but also to spread innuendo about NBC News head Andy Lack and “Morning Joe” anchor Joe Scarborough.
- Called Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” at an event honoring Navajo code talkers.
- Not denied repeated reports that he now believes the “Access Hollywood” tape is somehow fake and that President Barack Obama may not have been born in this country.
- Attacked congressional Democratic leaders and insisted he would blame them for a government shutdown.
- Delivered a statement about North Korea’s latest missile launch.
- Spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping over the phone.
That’s just in the last 48 hours!
Trump is someone who prides himself on a sort of everywhere-all-at-once approach to governance. He throws lots and lots of things at the wall every day –through tweets, public statements and policy maneuvers. He has, from the start of his political career, reveled in thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom and political correctness. He is a provocateur by nature; he likes to get reaction, he likes to freak out the squares.
And yet, the last few days Trump feels even more unmoored than usual. More erratic. More wild.
“Something is unleashed with him lately,” Times reporter Maggie Haberman said on CNN Wednesday morning. “I don’t know what is causing it, I don’t know how to describe it.”
Scarborough was more pointed. “Looks like I picked a good day to stop responding to Trump’s bizarre tweets,” he tweeted of Trump. “He is not well.”
The retweeting of videos that purportedly depict violence being committed against Christians by Muslims is the sort of stuff you might expect to find on the Twitter feed of a local conservative talk radio host rather than the President of the United States.
It is the exact opposite of the efforts made by Trump’s two predecessors in the White House – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – to avoid painting all Muslims with the broad brush of terrorism. It stokes an “us against them” mentality – not to mention an anger – that has traditionally been wholly off limits to presidents. (And the retweets could affect Trump’s tenuous efforts to convince the courts – which have previously cited his comments on Islam – that he has the power to institute a travel ban from several majority-Muslim nations.)
All you need to know about these retweets is that they are being praised by white supremacist David Duke. “Trump retweets video of crippled white kid in Europe being beaten by migrants, and white people being thrown off a roof and then beaten to death,” tweeted Duke. “He’s condemned for showing us what the fake news media WON’T. Thank God for Trump! That’s why we love him!”
Then there is Trump’s willingness to engage in baseless innuendo spreading – the sort of stuff you might expect in a gossip tipsheet like “Page Six” but never from the leader of the free world.
Trump’s reaction to Lauer’s firing – the result, according to NBC, of “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” – was to make suggestions about the personal behavior of other powerful personalities in the NBC orbit. He did this entirely without any sort of facts or substantiation. And, if past is prologue, Trump won’t produce any evidence. He will simply besmirch two public figures and then move on.
Which brings us to the fact that the President of the United States is now, again, trafficking in two major conspiracy theories that he himself debunked not more than a year ago.
Trump apologized for the language he used when speaking about women in an “Access Hollywood” tape that emerged in October 2016. He never suggested at the time that the tape was fake. But now, according to The New York Times, Trump is telling associates – and at least one US senator, that he has doubts about the authenticity of the tape. “We don’t think that was my voice,” Trump told the senator, according to the Times. (“Access Hollywood” reiterated earlier this week that that tape was 100% genuine.)
And, after five years of promoting the totally false idea that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Trump, last September, gave a perfunctory nod to the fact that, after all of that, Obama was an American citizen. But, apparently he has never totally been convinced of that fact and has taken to raising his lingering doubts about Obama’s citizenship even since he has been elected president.
What’s most concerning about all of that is the fact that – even amid this impulse-laden 48 hours – Trump has also dealt with North Korea’s latest provocation via a public statement and spoken with the president of China.
The same man who is stoking conspiracy theories, fomenting gossip and retweeting violent anti-Muslim videos from questionable sources is also on the phone – almost concurrently! – with world leaders trying to avoid a war in the Korean Peninsula.
None of this behavior is normal.
But Trump’s supporters will argue: that’s the whole point! Trump was elected to do things differently. To shake up stodgy old Washington and actually get things done. Unpredictability is the new predictability!
Sure – but only to a point. What that argument presumes is that this is all controlled fury and contained chaos – that Trump, deep down, knows exactly what he’s doing. That he is operating off of a strategic plan that plays the media and Democrats for chumps even while, somehow, #winning.
But, what if he isn’t? (And all available evidence suggests he isn’t.) What if Trump is just spinning ever faster – lashing out here, issuing a statement there – as he twirls and twirls and twirls?
What then? And what if there is no one around him willing or able to slow him down or exert a semblance of control?
These are not hypothetical questions given the way Trump has acted since returning from his Thanksgiving break. And they are not inconsequential ones either. We are talking about the man who is in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal in an increasingly fraught and tenuous world.