Trump: The Empty Chair in the Oval Office

Trying to rank and parse the nuttiness of President Donald Trump’s public statements is like trying to catch Niagara Falls in a paper cup. But one comment in the midst of his rambling ninety-minute speech at the rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange has been largely overlooked by analysts and the Twitterverse and deserves closer attention.

For context, this appearance was supposed to show his support for Senator Strange, who was appointed to fill out the term of Attorney General Jefferson Sessions. Strange is in a close primary race with Judge Roy Moore, formerly the state’s Chief Justice, who was removed from the bench for ethical violations but re-elected anyway. Although the President was in Alabama to show his support, as usual he reverted to his only themes: braggadocio and threats. Pretty much everything he says, wherever he is, boils down to: 1. I am uniquely and unprecedentedly great and everyone loves me. 2. Anyone who does not love me is lying and will be hit with a demeaning nickname, fired, called a disaster or an enemy, or possibly bombed. 3. Stuff that’s just made up. 4. Red meat/red state guaranteed blood-stirring magic words like “guns,” “immigration,” and “Hillary.”

President Trump had very little to say about Senator Strange and what he did say was lukewarm at best. The closest he came to praising Strange was thanking him for voting in favor of Trumpcare without asking for anything in return, which he said was, I am not making this up, “the coolest thing that happened to me in six months.”

He acknowledged that some members of his administration support Moore, said “I might have made a mistake” by supporting Strange, and promised to campaign “like hell” for Moore if he wins the primary. That is a more enthusiastic commitment for his candidate’s opponent than the “good guy” and “he didn’t make me have dinner with him in exchange for a vote” comments he made about Strange.

There was a lot in the speech about the NFL, as has been widely reported, and some huffing and puffing about North Korea, where our diplomacy seems to be devolving to middle school epithets. I loved Andy Borowitz’s notion that Kim Jong Un could respond by choosing another Elton John song and calling Donald Trump “Honky Cat.”

What caught my attention, though, was the President’s defensive remarks about how “brutal” the stress was of his hard work on repealing Obamacare. “Brutal.” That was his word and he emphasized it. “It’s called brutality.” And what was it that was so onerous? The President of the United States told his audience and those of us watching television at home that his hard work in trying to repeal Obamacare was to have meals, give tours, and pose for pictures with Members of Congress and Senators and their families.

It is not just that he likes Strange because he gave him a vote without asking for a visit. It is that the President thinks that his job is basically tour guide and photo op. Did he exhaust himself reading policy papers, meeting with experts, talking to groups of patients, healthcare professionals, or governors, or trying to find compromise between competing positions? No, this self-described maker of brilliant deals could not come up with any idea of negotiation other than being a real live version of a cardboard cut-out for tourists to take selfies with. And in a moment when Americans are suffering terribly from hurricane damage and at risk of nuclear attack, he had the nerve to whine about football players and describe enduring dinners and photographs as brutal.

What is brutal is the realization that the man in the White House thinks the Presidency is, like the beauty pageants he enjoys buying, purely ceremonial.


Originally published at on September 26, 2017.

Movie critic, corporate critic and shareholder advocate, critic/editor at @ebertvoices @moviemom, and #corpgov #movies and editor at @miniverpress

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