The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump’s joyless presidency

President Trump at a news conference in the East Room of the White House on March 17. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Is President Trump having any fun as the leader of the free world? I ask because sometimes it seems he lets media scrutiny suck all enjoyment out of a job that represents the ultimate fulfillment of his principal goal in life: winning.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman on Friday shared a remarkable and slightly sad — make that sad! — anecdote from election night.

Think about that. Trump had just won the White House. He should have been ecstatic. His good mood should have been impermeable.

Instead, an unflattering — but not particularly damaging — press report was on his mind. According to Haberman, Trump couldn't help but vent his anger before basking in his triumph.

Trump's victory speech a short time later didn't exactly exude joy, either. As Esquire's Michael Sebastian wrote at the time, it “was not a soaring address. It was subdued and informal, like a long toast at a local Rotary Club from a guy who didn't think he was supposed to give a speech — at least not a victory speech.”

In office, Trump has appeared highly susceptible to souring by critical coverage. He had been president for all of 75 hours when White House press secretary Sean Spicer described him as demoralized by the media:

The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing. And I think that when you sit here and you realize the sacrifice the guy made, leaving a very, very successful business because he really cares about this country and he wants — despite your partisan differences, he cares about making this country better for everybody. He wants to make it safer for everybody.
And so when you wake up everyday and that’s what you’re seeing over and over again, and you’re not seeing stories about the Cabinet folks that he’s appointing or the success that he’s having trying to keep American jobs here. Yes, it is a little disappointing.

Then in February, during his first news conference as president — an opportunity to extol the achievements of his first month — a surly Trump ranted against the media.

The president spoke to and took questions from reporters at the White House for more than an hour, Feb. 16. Here are key moments from that event. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A week later, in the friendly confines of the Conservative Political Action Conference (“We love you!” an audience member shouted, as the president took the stage), Trump remained under a dark cloud. He devoted 12 minutes at the beginning of his address to airing media grievances.

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker (the same Ashley Parker who previously worked with Haberman at the Times) reported in early March that “the president has been seething as he watches round-the-clock cable news coverage.”

Their story chronicled the extent to which Trump's spirits rise and fall, according to the news cycle: up amid praise for his first address to Congress, down a day later, when The Post reported on undisclosed campaign-year conversations between Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general, and Russia's ambassador to the United States. Up again when the media covered Trump's unsubstantiated accusation of wiretapping by former president Barack Obama, back down when the Sunday political talk shows featured Republicans unwilling to defend the baseless charge.

The dangerous rage of Donald Trump

Discussing his health on TV with Mehmet Oz in the fall, Trump acknowledged that running for president is stressful and said that “one of the reasons is the media is so dishonest.”

Oz seemed concerned about the toll of media-induced stress on Trump.

“You get angry about that?” he asked the then-candidate. “We know anger — hostility — has significant health consequences. How do you cope with that? How do you get past that?”

Trump, loath to show any sign of weakness, then tried to play down the media's hold on him, saying that negative coverage doesn't stress him out as much as it would “if the press mattered.”

“It's amazing,” he said. “It doesn't matter as much, like it used to matter.”

The media clearly matters to Trump, however. And Trump's penchant for holding grudges seems to be sucking whatever joy should come with winning the ultimate prize.