It is very clear that the desensitization to insanity, a phenomenon which it was feared a Trump presidency would create, has come to fruition. After all, it was just over a week ago when he threatened nuclear war with North Korea in order to prove how big his manhood is, and we have already completely forgotten about it.
Today’s two media availabilities where Trump appeared on live television, provided further evidence that we have largely lost the ability to realize just how nuts all of this really is.
The first occurred before his first cabinet meeting of the year. My initial impression that Trump was more than lucid enough to completely dispel the notion, put forward by author Michael Wolff, that the president has dementia, or is somehow in “25th Amendment Territory” (though it did confirm the long-held notion that he is easily manipulated) However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t say a lot of very troubling things.
Amidst his usual bombastic bluster about his general awesomeness, he made some really extraordinary statements (at least for a “normal” president). The most outrageous came in the form of his promise to “take a strong look at our nation’s libel laws.”
While Trump has said this before at part of his campaign con, he has never done so this dramatically as the President of the United States. I don’t believe for a moment that he is actually serious, or could even somehow get this done if he was, but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be roundly condemned, by all political sides, for making such a threat to our fundamental First Amendment rights, all for only his own personal agenda. The fact that no leading Republican will do so, and that no one in the “conservative” media (who would also be greatly harmed by a change to libel laws) will hold them accountable for their cowardice, is truly depressing.
Ironically, and just as troubling, based on Trump’s description of how he would like to change the libel laws—which he described as a “sham and a disgrace”—he doesn’t seem to realize the reality that what he says he wants essentially already exists. Of course, if libel laws really were ever significantly strengthened, Trump himself would be one of the first people successfully sued, and former President Barack Obama would have one of the very best cases against him.
Trump was clearly lashing out about libel laws because of the Wolff book, and he may have a point about that tome saying things which are not true. However, as soon as people can be punished for saying things that MIGHT be untrue, or that they THINK are true, then what is left of our already threatened free speech rights will inevitably be taken away. There is simply no realm in which the fear of a “slippery slope” is more justified than that of the free expression of thought.
Trump also said some remarkable things about his much-discussed “reality TV” immigration negotiation from yesterday. Amazingly, he even began his remarks today by welcoming the media to his “studio.” He then laughably claimed that the “reviews” his “performance” got were so good that he was even receiving letters of praise from news anchors.
The reality is that his “performance” was, at best, completely ignorant of the mainstream Republican position on immigration and extremely naïve about the political realities. Trump was rightly criticized roundly by a number of his biggest supporters in the “conservative” media for what he said.
He tried his best to clean up his mess on that issue at today’s afternoon “press conference” (since when does taking questions from only two friendly reporters count as a “presidential press conference”?!). Purely by “coincidence,” he called first on a reporter from a conservative website who asked him whether he still was requiring “wall funding” as part of a DACA deal. He emphatically said that he was, directly contradicting what he had said on live TV just yesterday.
Trump then contradicted himself (remember when that kind of stuff actually mattered?!) on whether he would agree to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Last year, Trump said that he “100%” would be willing to testify. Today, he totally dodged the question and, while absurdly calling the entire Russia story a “Democratic hoax” (which has somehow already caused two of his top aides to plead guilty to lying to investigators), concluded that we will have to “wait to see what happens.”
The stark reality is that, for any other president in modern history, today would have been one which we would be talking about for the rest of their term in office. With Donald Trump, it’s just another Wednesday which will be largely deemed to be ancient history, for better and worse, by the end of the day tomorrow.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.