Like many of his predecessors, Donald Trump had vowed to hit the ground running on the first day of his presidency. But unlike the others, America’s 45th president took his first step firmly upon an upturned rake.
Trump was furious. A Reuters photo taken at 12:01 p.m. Friday from atop the Washington Monument showed that, blocks away from the Capitol steps, much of the Mall was virtually empty. Meanwhile, a similar photo of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration showed the Mall jammed.
That reportedly enraged Trump. From the Capitol steps, he thought the crowd looked huge. He so needed to be the biggest and best that he decided to lash out at the messengers. All of them. After less than 24 hours as president, Trump decided to blast the journalists and have his staff do it too. From that point on, the reality that Trump had a wonderful, dignified inauguration was, for all practical purposes, Trumped.
That was just the start of a weeklong series of wrong steps by Trump and his advisers. He was part Fonz, part firehose, swaggering and unfiltered — and apparently, no adviser dared to tell him he was only hurting himself. Soon, Team Trump was performing like a proud precision drill team — parading across a field of upturned rakes.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
On Saturday, America’s new president made his great beginning look bad — and then much worse.
Trump pathetically seemed determined to show that he was a Queens guy with lots of class — all of it low. His staff had wisely scheduled his first presidential appearance for the Central Intelligence Agency. He needed to say gracious things to the intelligence pros he’d denigrated in the campaign and even this month. (“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Jan. 11, 2017.)
So Trump was carefully positioned in front of the CIA’s hallowed wall of 117 stars commemorating each CIA person who has died serving America — the CIA’s equivalent of the Vietnam War memorial wall. But Trump desecrated their memory using them as his backdrop for more political wind-bagging: his inaugural crowds were huge; journalists were “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” because the media created the notion that he’d insulted CIA pros.
That night, Trump sent his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, to use his first press briefing to read a diatribe attacking the press and citing all sorts of false numbers and claims to still insist Trump’s inaugural audience at the Mall was the biggest ever — even in person.
On Sunday, Trump’s erstwhile explainer, the irrepressibly evasive Kellyanne Conway, worked the morning TV circuit. When NBC News’ “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd kept asking her about Spicer’s false facts and claims, Conway explained Spicer was simply giving “alternative facts” — a level of satire that topped George Orwell’s “doublethink.”
On Monday, Trump bizarrely used a meet-and-greet White House reception with bipartisan congressional leaders to resurrect his biggest whopper of all. Trump claimed he won the popular vote (Hillary Clinton won it by almost 3 million votes) — but was robbed because 3 to 5 million illegal immigrants voted! All independent news fact-checkers long ago declared that a falsehood. A New York Times headline labeled it a “Lie.”
Time out: At the risk of surfing against the waves of media and politics, we need to note here that, under the cover of all this political slapstick, Trump may be closing in on a record for rapid presidential campaign promise-keeping.
He has announced the first steps for building his promised U.S.-Mexico wall. He has signed an executive order to begin the undoing of the Affordable Care Act by granting waivers or delays to individuals or health care providers who are excessively burdened by the program. He has ended the U.S. participation in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership — despite warnings that this could deprive the United States of Asia’s trade markets. He is beginning to renegotiate NAFTA. He met with corporate and labor leaders, pledging new efforts to halt the flight of U.S. jobs overseas. He moved to restart the Keystone and Dakota pipelines — insisting all pipes must be made with U.S. steel.
Meanwhile, just hours after his inauguration, Trump canceled an Obama order that would have saved middle class homebuyers with Federal Housing Authority-backed mortgages about $500 a year. Trump’s quick move pleased bankers — and should have infuriated Trump’s middle class supporters.
But most of Trump’s voters don’t even know about it — because the media’s big eye was focusing on Trump’s false claims and political snafus.
It may be some time before we discover whether our new president or the reporters who cover him are up to their challenging new jobs.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.