One week of the not-normal presidency
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The best way to keep Donald Trump’s presidency in perspective isn’t to go down the rabbit hole with every fight he picks, or with every statement that mangles reality. It’s to look at the total volume of how often he does it.
- We looked through all of his public comments and tweets for this week, and found an avalanche of personal attacks, complaints, and statements at odds with reality. One came close to setting off a diplomatic crisis.
Why it matters: Trump’s fights with opponents and battles with the truth don’t make him unique — you can find examples with any president. But there are few who would have racked up this many examples in a single week. For the sake of history, it’s important not to lose sight of how unusual it is.
- He heckled Robert Mueller, both before the former special counsel’s testimony (tweeting “why didn’t Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?”) and afterwards (“Robert Mueller did a horrible job”).
- He attacked reporters who asked him to respond to Mueller’s testimony, calling one “fake news” and another “untruthful.”
- He infuriated the leaders of Afghanistan after noting that “if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth.” Afghanistan officials demanded a clarification.
- India denied his claim that Modi asked him to mediate the conflict over Kashmir.
- He suggested investigating Barack Obama's book deal: "Let's look into Obama the way they've looked at me ... Let's subpoena all of his records."
- He kept attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color, tweeting that the group was “a very Racist group of troublemakers.”
- He denied a Washington Post report that he had talking points on the lawmakers, even though there’s a photo of them.
- He attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling her “horrible,” “a horror show” and “grossly incompetent.”
- He claimed with no evidence that undocumented immigrants “vote many times, not just twice, not just three times.” He’s made similar claims before, even though Trump’s own commission found no widespread evidence of voter fraud.
- He claimed that Article 2 of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as President.” (It doesn’t.)
- He accused the news media of inventing sources: “There are no seven sources. They make them up.” (We don’t.)
- He charged that social media companies “censor opinions” and “decide what information citizens are going to be given,” and claimed his supporters have told him “they make it so hard to follow you.” (Go to Twitter, look up @realDonaldTrump, and see if it’s hard to follow him.)
The big picture: You don’t have to go back too far to find other factually challenged presidents. Richard Nixon is the obvious example, but think of LBJ, too: his dishonesty about the Vietnam War had deadly consequences. Or Bill Clinton, impeached for perjury.
- The challenge is how to think about it in real time — how to focus on the statements that matter and take a pass on the ones that don’t.
- The volume makes it a challenge to cover this White House. We’ve tried not to get caught up in every possible fact check of a trivial statement or attack or tweet. But the overload itself is worth acknowledging.
- Same with the spectacle of a president constantly attacking his investigators, just as he heckles his political opponents in personal terms. It barely registers as we’ve all gotten used to it, but it’s not how most presidents have operated.
The bottom line: There’s a lot of noise around Trump, and most of the daily noise is not worth your time. But the sheer volume of incidents — and the distance they’ve created from a normal presidency — are definitely worth your attention.