If you were wondering what the next two years might be like in Washington, wonder no longer. In President Donald Trump’s words, it’s going to be a “warlike posture,” and that war began in a combative post-election press conference in which a defensive, angry Trump made clear that anybody who dares to cross him would become a target.
That includes fellow conservatives, whom he increasingly treats as subjects who owe him total personal loyalty, and to whom he owes nothing. In his opening statement, Trump publicly mocked Republicans in suburban districts who had dared to distance themselves from his royal personage, even celebrating the fact that many had lost.
“Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman — too bad, Mike,” Trump said with a smile on his face. “Mia Love. I saw Mia Love … But Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”
“Peter Roskam didn’t want the embrace. Erik Paulsen didn’t want the embrace … didn’t work out too good,” Trump went on, reading off a list of the Republican fallen. “Those are some of the people that, you know, decided for their own reason not to embrace.”
Others unlikely to offer “the embrace” — also known as taking a knee before the king — were treated with similar scorn. When Trump was asked about Democratic plans to investigate his administration, he responded with a threat to investigate the congressional investigators. I can only imagine the GOP response had Barack Obama made such a statement.
When a black reporter, the calm, respected Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, dared to ask Trump whether his embrace of nationalism might be mistaken by some as an endorsement of white nationalism, the president proclaimed himself insulted. He bragged of record-high polling numbers among African-Americans and then accused Alcindor of racism for daring to ask such a question.
(That same day, the executive director of Identity Evropa, a racist, violent white-nationalist group with the motto “They will not replace us,” tweeted pictures of himself standing on the White House grounds. “Evropa has landed at the White House!” the text read.)
Another reporter then rose to correct Trump, pointing out that his job approval among black Americans remains dismal: “It’s just 8 percent, sir. Single digits.”
“See, when you talk about division, it’s people like this that cause division, great division,” Trump said, pointing at the reporter who had dared to tell him truth. That’s how the man thinks: Anybody who questions His Marvelousness is guilty of causing division, because the unity that he seeks is absolute conformity to his wishes.
Itching for a fight, Trump also called upon his archenemy in the press, CNN’s Jim Acosta. I’m no great fan of Acosta’s grandstanding — he has taken too eagerly to the self-appointed role as Trump’s foil, and while it’s the press’ job to ask tough questions, those questions should be intended to solicit information or insight, not to provoke combat. Acosta sometimes crosses that line.
That said, the White House reaction was far more troubling. After the press conference, press secretary Sarah Sanders used Twitter to accuse Acosta of “laying hands” on a female intern who had attempted to take his mic away, and Acosta’s White House press credential were stripped. Sanders also posted a video alleged to prove the assault claim.
The allegation is false; the video tweeted by Sanders had clearly been doctored, as comparisons with the original have proved. That’s the depth to which this administration has sunk, and it will go lower still.
Jay Bookman is a columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues and state and local politics.