When Donald Trump stepped out into the Rose Garden on Friday morning to deliver remarks about the spending bill and border security, America already knew a national emergency declaration was coming.
Mitch McConnell made the announcement on Thursday afternoon and Sarah Sanders confirmed it minutes later.
Given that, the public had reason to believe we’d get “teleprompter Trump” (a euphemism for “sane Trump”), who would recite from a rehearsed speech on the way to justifying an emergency declaration with references to historical precedent and nods to constitutional authority.
Of course “teleprompter Trump” is still Trump, so everyone knew there would be appeals to dubious statistics and allusions to Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
Who knows what the president read (or, more likely, watched) on Friday morning that got him riled up, but suffice to say “teleprompter Trump” was a no-show. Instead, we got “Charlottesville Trump”, and while it’s always hard to know what to expect from this president’s press conferences (and especially from pressers that are followed by a Q&A session), Friday’s proceedings were truly something to behold.
Today’s 50-minute spectacle easily upstaged the January shutdown news conference, wholly eclipsed the George Washington/”large brain” boondoggle and has a legitimate claim on knocking the Charlottesville presser out of the top slot on the list of most unhinged Trump rants.
There was no effort to stick to any script. A visibly agitated Trump was in full-on attack mode from the second he stepped up to the podium and he became increasingly adversarial as he went. In fact, he seemed to become progressively angrier even before the Q&A started, as though he was somehow observing himself in real time and implicitly citing his own rhetoric as a reason to ratchet up the bombast.
Although it’s hard to pick just one defining moment when it comes to justifying why the national emergency declaration deserves to unseat the Charlottesville presser for top “honors” in the unhinged Trump rant hall of
shfame, the following clip, during which he adopts a sing-along voice to explain what will happen on the legal front, is a good place to begin (it starts at the 1:00 mark):
Now that, right there, is a rant for the ages.
But we don’t want to give the rest of this debacle short shrift by suggesting that’s all you need to see, because there were plenty of other spectacularly egregious moments.
Below find Trump talking about “big loads” (he doesn’t mention that the largest Fentanyl bust in US history came at a port of entry) and offering up the most detailed version yet of his “women taped up in vans” story (do note that he seems to think about this a lot).
When it comes to ports of entry and actual, real statistics (some of which are produced by his own administration), a disgusted Trump said “it’s a lie, it’s just a lie”. Walls, he said, “work 100%”. To support that contention (i.e., to explain why America should believe him versus, for instance, the DEA and the FBI), he cited the crowd at his rally in El Paso.
He also used angel moms as stage props (at one point literally pitting them against Jim Acosta). Here he is talking about “an invasion of drugs and gangs of all kinds” and referencing one of the women, whose daughter, Trump explained, “was killed in the year of eighteen.”
Trump pushed for the US to adopt he death penalty for drug dealers and in the course of that effort, he debuted a highly absurd (and accidentally racist) impression of Xi Jinping:
Speaking of China, he opined on the trade talks held this week in Beijing. Initially, Trump tried to parrot the line about things going “well”, but accidentally ended up telling the truth (i.e., “who knows what that means”).
Trump claimed that his administration has “all the records” when it comes to the stock market. “We have every record”, he added, inexplicably depriving himself of plausible deniability for a claim that, thanks to that clarification, can be refuted by literally any market record of any kind set prior to Trump’s presidency and not eclipsed since he took office.
On the economy, Trump claimed that were he not elected, we’d be “going down the tubes”. He also mocked the financial media (using what he imagines is the voice of a dumb television anchor) for pointing out that things like, say, the unemployment rate, were already at near record low levels when he took office.
He said “some generals” think the border wall is more important than “some stuff they were going to use [funding] for.” He didn’t name those generals, presumably because they don’t exist.
He took a shot at Paul Ryan, and then when pressed, said “what difference does it make?” On that, he’s correct – it doesn’t make any difference, because now Nancy Pelosi is in charge.
When asked whether he’s being unduly influenced by Fox News and other hardline conservative commentators, he spent an inordinate amount of time shamelessly plugging Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, before talking himself in circles on Ann Coulter.
Trump absolutely refused to address the discrepancy between his claims and the actual data, instead suggesting that DHS has data that nobody else has seen. When asked whether the public might ever get a look at that data, he demurred.
On North Korea, Trump said quite a bit, but the most notable moment came when he suggested that Obama told him America was on the verge of starting a war before he left office. If that’s true, it’s huge news, but in a testament to how off the rails this presser really was, the media essentially ignored him, as you would anyone with his penchant for fabricating ostensibly momentous discussions.
Somehow, Trump managed to close an event convened to announce the signing of a spending bill and the declaration of a national emergency on the southern border with a blow-by-blow recap of the “fire and fury” days, complete with a reference to the “big button” boondoggle.
Obviously, there is no sense in which you could argue that what we all witnessed in the Rose Garden on Friday was any semblance of coherent.
At best, this was Trump riffing, off the cuff, on a day when he was irritated by the press coverage of the legal hurdles his emergency declaration is likely to face.
At worst, it was still more evidence that Trump isn’t in full possession of his faculties and, in the absence of whatever modicum of stability John Kelly and Jim Mattis managed to impart while they were still around, is free to act on his worst impulses.
Whatever the case, it was funny – and laughter is the best medicine, even when you’re witnessing the world’s foremost democracy descend into one-man, autocratic rule.