He struck out at Democrats as “evil,” “vicious” and “corrupt” people; expressed anger that “nothing happens” to Hillary Clinton (the Justice Department found no grounds for anything); called the FBI “scum" and “dirty cops”; weirdly recounted in gruesome terms the shooting of Republican House whip Steve Scalise (R-La.); and took a veiled swipe at Hunter Biden. (With not a shred of self-awareness, he declared, “They think that’s okay, because if it is — is Ivanka in the audience? Is Ivanka here? — boy, my kids could make a fortune. They could make a fortune. It’s corrupt.” They have, and it is.)
He lashed out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for praying for him. (”She may pray, but she prays for the opposite,” Trump said. “But, I doubt she prays at all.”) He demonized Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whom he grotesquely accused of using "religion as a crutch.” That’s quite a statement about a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints coming from a twice-divorced philanderer who paid off an adult film star with whom he allegedly had an affair just months after his wife gave birth. No president has ever attacked people of faith as he does. It would be enlightening if the media confronted his evangelical defenders, thereby not allowing the deeply hypocritical attacks on faith go unremarked.
Throughout the appearance, Trump seethed with resentment, resorting to vulgarity (“It was all bullshit,” he said of impeachment) and insisting (sorry, Sen. Collins) that he did nothing wrong. Fury and vindictiveness oozed from every pore. Seeing the commander in chief in full rage-mode, plainly willing — and eager, even — to wreak vengeance on his critics should be deeply disturbing, particularly to the party that just rationalized acquitting him.
In something from the Soviet Union’s old communist party playbook, he encouraged his Republican allies to stand and say nice things about him. It was one of many deeply weird moments.
The president’s angry performance was the diametrical opposite of how President Bill Clinton reacted to his own acquittal after a Senate impeachment trial in 1999. On the day he was cleared of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Mr. Clinton appeared alone in the Rose Garden, avoided any gloating, apologized for his part in leading to the conflict and called for reconciliation.
In other words, Clinton behaved like a composed, sane adult.
And yet, after this eye-popping performance, you will see mildly worded headlines describing Trump as holding a “celebration” for his acquittal. The effort to cast Trump in a setting of normalcy seems unabated, no matter how inappropriate to the events playing out before our eyes (which the vast majority of Americans do not witness live). CNN’s John Harwood was a noteworthy exception. “It was dark because he’s made clear that his mind is dark,” he said from his White House beat. “This is somebody in deep psychological distress right now.”
It is incumbent on the media to inform the public when the president behaves in such an aberrant manner. Indeed, it misleads readers and viewers to cast the event as an innocuous “celebration.” The media have struggled to appear “balanced” and objective in an era in which the president behaves in shocking and unprecedented ways. They need to find a language to convey vividly the unhinged anger and obsession with retribution that Trump occasionally unleashes in public.