Over his 40-plus years of microphone hogging, Donald J. Trump has seemingly tried to schmooze, bamboozle or browbeat every media outlet on Earth, with the possible exception of the Farmers’ Almanac. Still, it’s possible that you have never interviewed him. If that’s the case and you are wondering what you missed, watch the president’s Thursday phone call to his favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends.”
It was a Trumpian tour de force. The stammering anchors could scarcely get a word in edgewise as the president bounced from boast to boast, gripe to gripe, non sequitur to non sequitur in a stream of consciousness worthy of James Joyce. But they didn’t need to interrupt him, because he was constantly interrupting himself. When Trump says “by the way” (and he said it seemingly every few seconds with the Fox News team), it means he is about to change topics mid-sentence.
It occurred to me as Trump raged and rambled that his monologues resemble those little robot vacuum cleaners that veer off on a new heading each time they bump into furniture. He starts a sentence in praise of conservative Republican members of Congress, throws himself off track by name-checking a former aide, and winds up entangled in a story about the YouTube self-promoters known as Diamond and Silk. (In their Warholian 15 minutes of fame, by the way, Diamond and Silk are at 14 minutes and counting.)
Like the robot, if Trump keeps going long enough, he will probably cover the entire floor — that is, he will take every possible position on every topic he assays. He says he never watches certain television channels, and then he critiques their shows in minute detail. He says everything on CNN is fake, and then he praises the network’s anchor Anderson Cooper for his fine work. He says he is stymied by obstructionist Democrats then claims to have accomplished more than any other first-year president, news that might surprise George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, to name just a handful of busy executives whose initial 12 months put Trump’s in the shade.
I also noticed him execute one of his favorite moves. He likes to open his interviews with a display of apparent candor so that when he shifts to slinging hooey, you might be more inclined to believe him. There he was, on national television, admitting that he got his wife “a nice card” for her birthday. Oh, and flowers — as if the White House needs another bouquet. A man who will cop to blowing off his wife’s “very, very special day” on national television must be a truth teller. Right?
Actually, no. Or actually, maybe. Or actually, who can tell when Trump’s hot air is wreaking its cyclonic havoc? Here he is on the topic of his longtime attorney and associate Michael Cohen: “Michael is in business. He’s really a businessman at fairly big businesses, I understand. And I don’t know his business, but this doesn’t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business, and they’re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”
The mind reels.
Whether by strategy or intuition, Trump has cultivated a way of talking that puts logical, linear listeners at a great disadvantage. If you pause to analyze anything he’s saying, you may find yourself missing the actual mischief.
Like this: “They’re phony memos,” Trump said of fired FBI director James B. Comey’s memorandums of their meetings.
What does he mean by phony? Don’t ask, you’ll fall behind and miss something.
“He didn’t write those memos accurately,” Trump continued. “He put a lot of phony stuff. For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so — a day or two because I own the Miss Universe pageant.”
How is this germane? You’re falling behind.
“So, I went there to watch it, because it was near Moscow,” he sailed onward. “So I go to Russia — now, I did go there — everybody knows. The locks are there, the planes are there.”
What locks? What planes? Falling behind!
“He said I didn’t stay there a night.”
And there it is, the mischief, slipped into the word tempest as if by a magician hiding his trick in a flurry of gesticulation. So easy to miss amid the distractions: That’s not what Comey said.
He puts his own untruth into the other guy’s mouth and calls that man a liar. Dizzy yet? The Fox News anchors certainly looked dazed. That’s what it feels like when Trump comes calling.
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