In one fell swoop, Trump demonstrated how insincere was his earlier denunciation, why he was compelled to renounce Nazism and white nationalism (bad press) and how, when really provoked — by criticism! — he has no problem lashing out at his perceived enemies. In short, he honestly hates the free press, but not white nationalists — even after the death of a young woman. His gut tells him that the media, but not white nationalists, are “bad people.” (Recall how he meets with and consoles parents of those allegedly killed by illegal immigrants. He knows how to demonize groups and individuals when it serves his purposes.)
And that gets to the ordeal of trying to extract explanations, corrections, revisions or — gasp!– expressions of regret from a president who cannot cogently explain issues let alone his own positions, who never admits error and who feels no regret about anything. Media critics who chide the press for covering Trump’s tweets so carefully have it wrong. It’s his prepared statements and speeches we should ignore — for they tell us nothing about his actual views and are often contradicted within days or hours. What we should pay attention to are the utterances that are unscripted, spontaneous and unedited — generally tweets or live interviews with real journalists (not Fox News sycophants).
Trump told Lester Holt exactly why he fired former FBI director James B. Comey — and it wasn’t the reason stated in a prepared written statement. He tells us when he is contemplating firing the special counsel and what he thinks of his attorney general’s decision to follow his legal obligation and recuse himself. We don’t learn from teleprompter speeches how much he detests condemning neo-Nazis in his base; we learn that from a tweet dashed off in a fit of pique. Now, certainly, his tweets contain many untruths, exaggerations and idle threats. But they do provide insight into his mind. In those, his personality — narcissistic, needy, cruel, etc. — comes shining through.
Indeed, written statements from the administration — the explanation for Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians, financial disclosure forms, a letter explaining Comey’s firing — are often carefully crafted lies. The more time the administration is given to massage these, the less likely they are to bear a resemblance to reality.
So that brings us back to demands that Trump “say the right thing.” It’s a charade, a giant stage whisper to get Trump to say what he should have said but doesn’t mean. It’s giving him a mulligan (which he is often known to take for himself on the golf course) and allowing him to recant without recanting. On Monday, he made that absurdity even more apparent by grumbling about the teleprompter remarks he was forced to deliver.
So from here on out, let’s not demand that he say the right thing. Let’s simply hold him accountable for what he does say and mean. Instead of “Oh, he must single out neo-Nazis!” the press and political class should accept his words as delivered — and then condemn his moral vacuity. (“Trump is the only president that cannot bring himself to condemn Nazis.”) Moreover, let’s hold him accountable for what he does — appealing the travel ban; seeking to restrict voting access under the guise of preventing massive (nonexistent) fraud; breaking up families by deporting thousands of non-felon, illegal immigrants; pursuing criminal justice policies that adversely affect minorities; and cutting funds for groups that fight right-wing violence. Judging by his most candid reaction and his policies affecting minorities, we know exactly what he thinks about race in the United States. Let’s take him at his word.