It’s no surprise that President Trump has hijacked the Fourth of July ceremony on the Mall. He wants to turn a celebration of America’s founding into a celebration of himself. Obscene, yes, but entirely in character. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest child, said: “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.” That is Trump to a T — minus any of Roosevelt’s redeeming qualities.
A desire to be the center of attention has been — along with a desire for money and a desire to grab women by their private parts — Trump’s defining passion in life. It is why he has plastered his name on so many buildings and products. Why he fed the New York tabloids so many stories about himself. And ultimately why he ran for president. He didn’t think he’d win — it was just a way to get the attention he’s always craving.
Remarkably enough, Trump hasn’t become any less needy and greedy for publicity since he entered the White House. Having drunk so deeply at the well of ego gratification, he keeps coming back for ever-bigger gulps.
He has turned, as my Post colleagues Ashley Parker and Robert Costa noted, into our narrator in chief: He feels compelled to comment on matters that do not involve him just so he stays in the conversation, no matter the topic. Recent examples include technical glitches at the Democratic presidential debate, a helicopter crash in New York and the controversial outcome of the Kentucky Derby. Trump is obsessed with his ratings and how he is perceived by the “Fake News Media.” His approach to North Korea — three summits without any of the necessary preparation work — makes little sense diplomatically, but it makes perfect sense if the only point is to put Trump where he always wants to be — on center stage.
In fairness, lots of people are as mesmerized by Trump as he is by himself. The media have covered him obsessively and minutely ever since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. He has been president for only 2½ years but has dominated our head space for four years — and counting.
I plead as guilty as anyone else to being fixated on Trump. I have been writing at least two to three times a week for the past four years primarily about him. By a very conservative estimate, that’s at least 400 articles. This column makes it 401. To some extent this is natural — any president is always the No. 1 newsmaker. But Trump’s bizarre, repulsive and erratic behavior amps up the attention-meter into the red zone.
Critics of the media suggest that we stop feeding his ego and start ignoring him. I wish we could. But how do you ignore the man with his finger on the nuclear button? His tweets provide an ongoing MRI of his disordered mind — and, despite his pathological lying and pervasive inconsistency, they offer a more reliable update on his actions than anything his clueless spokespeople say. Trump has announced many important policy decisions on Twitter. Sorry, that’s news, and we in the media need to cover it, even at the cost of gratifying Trump’s insatiable desire for publicity.
But don’t worry, Trump haters, covering Trump doesn’t do him any political favors. The unemployment rate is under 4 percent, but Trump still can’t consistently break 40 percent approval. As Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic, Barack Obama and George W. Bush drew more than 70 percent support from those who were satisfied with the economy. Trump gets only a little more than 50 percent support even from voters who approve of his handling of the economy.
Trump’s approval numbers are anemic because most voters disapprove of his witless and offensive statements and actions. The more they hear, the less they like it. A new Pew Research Center survey shows how the public reacts to Trump’s comments: 76 percent are “concerned,” 70 percent are “confused,” 69 percent are “embarrassed,” 67 percent are “exhausted,” 65 percent are “angry,” 62 percent are “insulted,” and 56 percent are “frightened.” Even a majority of Republicans are “concerned” and “embarrassed.” The best that can be said for Trump is that he entertains 54 percent of the country. Sure, he is a riveting spectacle — but so is a car crash. That doesn’t mean anyone would want to be chauffeured by the world’s worst driver.
If Trump could shut up — if he could stop tweeting and limit his public pronouncements to bland teleprompter speeches — his approval rating probably would rise at least 10 points, and his reelection would become assured. But while politically beneficial, a period of prolonged silence would be psychologically devastating to him. He could not handle having people talk about anything or anybody else.
By the standards of normal politicians who want to get things done and win reelection, Trump’s presidency has been a fiasco. But by the standards of a reality TV show performer, he is accomplishing far more than he could have ever imagined. Getting attention as a real estate developer took a lot of work. For a president, it’s effortless. He finally has a narcissist’s dream job, and he will try to keep it as long as he can. The irony is that the more he struggles to stay in the limelight, the likelier he is to lose it.