Yesterday President Trump said something that was equal parts hilarious and human. According to Michael Shear of the New York Times:
President Trump asserted Monday that he would have rushed in to save the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School from a gunman with an assault weapon, even if he was unarmed at the time of the massacre.
Speaking to a meeting of the country’s governors at the White House, Mr. Trump conceded that “you don’t know until you test it.” But he said he believed he would have exhibited bravery “even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”
I’m not going to lie, my first reaction to this was … well …
I was not the only person to have this reaction, as this was made for late-night talk show fodder.
There are so many ways in which the idea of Trump heroically rushing into a dangerous situation is risible. As Will Wilkinson noted Monday and during the 2016 campaign, Trump does not really like most people and in his former life paid a ton for his own personal security perimeter. The one time during the campaign when someone bum-rushed his stage, Trump’s first reaction was not exactly heroic. And as Trump admitted to Howard Stern a decade ago, “I’m not good for medical. In other words, if you cut your finger and there’s blood pouring out, I’m gone.”
If this isn’t enough evidence that Trump would not do the heroic thing, check out my Post colleague Eli Rosenberg’s exploration of what Trump has done in the face of danger.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as per usual, tried to clean up Trump’s damned spot with the tiniest of handkerchiefs:
“When the president said earlier today that he would have run into the school, was he suggesting that he could have saved the day?” Acosta asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“I think he was just stating that as a leader, he would have stepped in and hopefully been able to help as a number of the individuals that were in the school, the coach and other adults and even a lot of the students stepped up and helped protect other students,” the press secretary responded. “I think the point he was making is that he would have wanted to have played a role in that as well.”
“Is he trained in firing a weapon?” Acosta pressed. “Is he trained in using a handgun or a firearm of some sort?”
“I don’t think that was the point he was making,” Sanders responded, saying the president would have wanted to take “courageous action” regardless of whether he theoretically had a gun in the event of a mass shooting.
Sanders’s argument sounds dangerously similar to an old Seinfeld plotline:
Trump’s assertions and Sanders’s elaborations are easy to mock in many different ways. And yet the more I think about it, the more a small part of me feels that in his own ham-handed way, Trump was trying to sound presidential. And I cannot begrudge him that effort.
The truth is that we all want to be the hero of our own story. If something bad is going down, we like to imagine doing the right thing. We do not envision cowering in a corner when a crisis unfolds and lives are on the line. I do not know what I would do if my school experienced an active shooter, but I would hope that I could play a constructive role. For Trump to try to envision himself — and, it should be noted, others in the room — as heroes is about as normal a human response as I’ve seen from Trump.
We all have pleasing illusions about ourselves. We think we still look svelte or young or are in good enough shape to pitch for the Red Sox and I am totally not talking about myself here. I also know, deep down, that none of these things are true anymore. But that impulse to imagine the best version of ourselves is not the worst human trait, and it is hard to begrudge it in others.
It is not difficult to observe the mixture of doubt and fear that drives someone like Trump. In the past few days alone he has been compared in this newspaper to Robert S. Mueller III several times and found wanting. That is not surprising. The special counsel is far better at his job than Trump is at his. Heck, Mueller is even better at fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to drain the swamp.
Mueller would probably rush into a school with an active shooter. No matter what he claims, Trump would probably not. But at least he wants to be the kind of person who does the heroic thing. That makes him closer to the rest of us than most of the things that he says or does.