Presidents’ Day weekend is traditionally a time for relaxation — and perhaps a little contemplation of two of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In President Trump’s case, it was an opportunity to play golf in Florida and to tweet up a storm. He published 40 tweets from Saturday morning to Monday night. Taken together, they tell a story of just how “unpresidented” his behavior remains as he enters his third year in office.
Simply the fact that he sent so many tweets, and they were so personal and vituperative, is an anomaly. Twitter was founded only in 2006 and President George W. Bush never used it while in office. The first presidential tweet was sent by President Barack Obama in 2010 — an innocuous message to promote disaster aid for Haiti. Trump is the first president to unburden his id on Twitter in a way that Richard M. Nixon did only on the White House tapes.
By Trump’s standards, his first tweet of the weekend — at 11:43 a.m. on Saturday — was tame: It was a video clip of his declaration of a state of emergency on Friday. His second one was a little weirder: a clip from his State of the Union address with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” blasting in the background. At 7:10 p.m. on Saturday, Trump for some reason felt compelled to write “BUILDING THE WALL!” — his first lie of the weekend, since the border wall is not being built. Lie No. 2 followed just seven minutes later when he tweeted: “Billions of Dollars are being paid to the United States by China in the form of Trade Tariffs!” As a first-year economics student would know, tariffs are paid by domestic consumers, not by foreign governments.
Things started to get really weird late on Saturday night. At 10:51 p.m., Trump tweeted a demand that “Britain, France, Germany and other European allies” take back 800 Islamic State fighters captured in Syria. He warned: “The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them........ The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go.” This is the president as mob enforcer: Nice country you have there; it’d be a shame if we had to release some terrorists there!
Near midnight on Saturday, Trump retweeted a tweet from the president of the far-right legal group Judicial Watch claiming “Strzok/Page Docs Show More Collusion to Protect Hillary Clinton.” This was the first of many weekend tweets in which the president attacked his own Justice Department — unthinkable for any other president, routine for him. He would go on to quote Rush Limbaugh: “These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail.” Then: “The Mueller investigation is totally conflicted, illegal and rigged!” Followed by: “Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey.”
Trump was particularly exercised by McCabe’s confirmation that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had talked of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. “He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.....,” Trump wrote at 7:15 Sunday morning, adding at 7:29 a.m.: “This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” An hour later, he quoted a commentator on his favorite show, “Fox and Friends,” accusing Rosenstein of “an illegal coup attempt.” Pay no attention: It’s just the president accusing his own deputy attorney general of treason and coup-plotting. This type of vitriol has become so commonplace that it barely registered as news — yet in any other administration it would have produced front-page headlines for weeks.
The only group that Trump seems to hate as much as his own Justice Department is the news media. At 7:52 a.m. on Sunday, he complained about a “Saturday Night Live” skit poking fun at him: “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?” So the president thinks that a satirical sketch calls for “retribution”? What country is this anyway? It’s hard to tell, because four minutes later Trump echoed Josef Stalin’s attacks on the press: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Just six days earlier, a BBC cameraman had been violently attacked at a Trump rally. But Trump continues to incite his supporters against the media.
If someone were ranting and raving like this on the street, you would walk quickly away. Yet somehow we have become inured to this ranting and raving from the most powerful man in the world. We shouldn’t be. Over Presidents' Day weekend, Trump again demonstrated why he remains as unfit as ever to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Lincoln — or even of Millard Fillmore and Warren Harding. The fact that we tolerate his disgraceful conduct makes all of us complicit in this ongoing diminution of our democracy.