Last week, in the White House, we saw a spectacle that would have embarrassed even Trump’s cult-of-personality role model, Kim Jong Un. Trump was announcing $16 billion in effective welfare payments to farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by his ill-advised trade war with China. As usual, the president went off-script. The assembled farmers must’ve been puzzled as he went into a diatribe about media reports saying he had been irate the day before, when he had stalked out of a meeting with congressional leaders that was supposed to be about infrastructure.
He had been perfectly calm, Trump claimed. Then, one by one, he called on aides to attest that he had indeed been serene and unruffled — counselor Kellyanne Conway, communications aide Mercedes Schlapp, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, press secretary Sarah Sanders. Oh yes, Mr. President, you were sooooo calm and collected , they told him. I was afraid one of them might call him “Dear Leader.” Even deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who hadn’t even attended the meeting in question, was forced to chime in; he dutifully offered his measure of fawning praise.
Perhaps, in its long history, the White House has witnessed a similar display of toadying, but I can’t think of when. The men and women in that room once had reputations and self-respect. Now, they have only Trump.
Later that evening, the president retweeted a highly edited video clip from a news conference by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intended to suggest that she was having trouble putting words together. Another clip making the rounds on social media had been slowed and distorted, intended to make it appear as though Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who is not a drinker — were drunk.
This appears to be the propaganda line about Pelosi, that she’s no longer sharp, that she’s lost it. In fact, Pelosi has been both lucid and devastating, saying last week that she prays for Trump and suggesting that his family or staff perform an intervention.
The other main target of Trump’s propaganda attacks is Joe Biden, who is leading in the polls for the Democratic presidential nomination. Trump likes to call him “Sleepy,” which makes little sense to anyone who knows the ebullient former vice president. Trump’s obsession with Biden is a tell: The president apparently fears that Biden could beat him next year, and I think he’s right.
Trump and his enablers continually insist on a false narrative about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation that is pure propaganda. Trump claims that Mueller (a lifelong Republican) was assisted in his probe by “18 Angry Democrats.” Not true. Trump claims he showed he was “the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country.” Definitely not true, as he refused to be interviewed by Mueller’s team and is defying subpoenas from House committees. Trump claims Mueller found “ No collusion and No obstruction.” Another lie. Mueller found nothing that rose to the level of criminal conspiracy but listed 10 episodes that many legal experts say amount to obstruction of justice. Trump claims that the House wants “a Do-Over” — when Mueller made clear his view that determining whether a president committed a crime was up to Congress.
We will hear much propaganda about the economy, which of course made most of its impressive gains during the Obama years. We will hear Trump repeat the lie that somehow China is paying the tariffs he imposed, when really the cost is borne by U.S. importers and ultimately the American consumer. We will hear the president blame Democrats for legislative gridlock, even though it was Trump who declared last week that he will refuse to work with Congress as long as he remains under investigation.
As the congressional investigations gradually pry loose financial information that Trump has done everything in his power to keep secret, as pain from the tariffs increases, as Trump finds himself having to work with Pelosi whether he wants to or not, and as Trump worries more and more about his reelection prospects, the propaganda machine — using its megaphone, Fox News — will crank up the volume.
It’s just noise. Fight it with truth.