PALM BEACH, Fla. — This Thanksgiving, President Trump doesn’t seem to be thankful for very much — and seems frustrated that Americans aren’t expressing more gratitude for him.
At a time when many reflect on the blessings in their lives and help those in need, the president has thanked himself for the booming stock market and promised to cut welfare programs. He has demanded more credit for the release of three college basketball players who were arrested for allegedly shoplifting in China — tweeting Wednesday that “IT WAS ME” who got them out — and called the father of one of the players an “ungrateful fool.” He also revived the controversy over football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and sought to cast doubt on the women who have accused Senate candidate Roy Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers.
The holiday week, in other words, serves as a reminder that Trump doesn’t take a break from airing his grievances — not even in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. As he tweeted in 2013: “Happy Thanksgiving to all — even the haters and losers!”
Of course, that’s why many of his supporters adore him. They love that he doesn’t waste time uttering flowery holiday sentiments pulled from greeting cards and instead speaks his mind without any filter, or a spell-checker.
But ahead of Thanksgiving — the all-American celebration of gratitude, unity and family — the president’s attacks and provocations may remind some Americans of that one troublemaking uncle they will soon have to face.
The president has not completely opted out of the warm and fuzzy parts of Thanksgiving. Before leaving Washington on Tuesday, Trump good-naturedly participated in one of the White House’s more ridiculous traditions by pardoning a turkey named Drumstick. Standing in the Rose Garden, Trump recognized a food pantry near the White House and thanked members of the military, law enforcement officers, first responders and the “wonderful citizens of our country.”
“This Thursday, as we give thanks for our cherished loved ones,” Trump said in scripted remarks, “let us also renew our bonds of trust, loyalty and affection between our fellow citizens as members of a proud national family of Americans.”
Just before Trump formally pardoned the bird, he said, “I feel so good about myself doing this.”
Trump has yet to participate in another presidential Thanksgiving tradition: volunteering at a food pantry, helping serve meals to the homeless or visiting members of the military. (On Wednesday, Vice President Pence visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.)
On Thanksgiving Day or in the days leading up to it, Barack Obama and his family would volunteer at a food bank or help serve a hot meal to the homeless. George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Thanksgiving in 2003 to have dinner with troops serving there. During Bill Clinton’s first Thanksgiving in the White House in 1993, he and his family helped prepare dinner for the homeless at a church in Washington.
Such events are often viewed as nothing more than photo ops and logistical nightmares for organizers. But as Trump spent Wednesday firing off angry tweets from what he calls “the winter White House” and then retreating to one of his private golf courses, social media platforms filled with photos and remembrances of how previous presidents spent this time of year.
Trump kicked off the week with a 6:25 a.m. tweet Monday reviving the controversy over professional football players kneeling in protest. He called for the National Football League to suspend an Oakland Raiders player who, Trump alleged, “stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our national anthem.”
Thirty minutes later, Trump shifted into third person to tweet a prediction: “Under President Trump unemployment rate will drop below 4%. Analysts predict economic boom for 2018!” He didn’t mention how he often said during the campaign that the unemployment rate was an inaccurate measure of what American workers were actually experiencing.
Later that day, Trump announced at a Cabinet meeting that once Republicans pass a tax bill — which analysts say will mostly benefit the wealthy — he wants them to overhaul welfare. The White House has yet to explain what that would entail and which programs would face changes.
On Tuesday, after pardoning Drumstick, Trump was preparing to board Marine One on the way to Florida when he was stopped by a question from a reporter: “Mr. President, are you ready to talk about Roy Moore at all?”
After avoiding the topic for more than a week, Trump decided to engage, attacking Moore’s Democratic opponent and noting that the Alabama candidate for Senate has denied the allegations against him, which include pursuing teenage girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old waitress.
“Look, he denies it,” Trump said. “He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also.”
Trump did not have that sort of patience for three basketball players from the University of California at Los Angeles who were arrested in China after allegedly stealing designer sunglasses. The players were released soon after the president’s visit to China earlier this month, and Trump has taken full credit — while accusing the players, who are all black, of not being adequately grateful to him.
LaVar Ball, the father of one of the players, has played down Trump’s role in the release, evidently infuriating the president.
“It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence — IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair,” Trump tweeted at 5:25 a.m. Wednesday, referring to the boxing promoter who campaigned for Trump during last year’s election.
“Just think,” the president continued, overflowing into a second tweet, “LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!”
Fifteen minutes later, Trump tweeted about the NFL contemplating leaving teams in the locker rooms for the national anthem: “That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!. . .”
Trump didn’t complete that thought and went on to retweet missives from two conservative radio personalities who sided with him.
Later in the day, after a visit to his golf club here in South Florida, came a Thanksgiving reflection: “51 Million American to travel this weekend — highest number in twelve years (AAA). Traffic and airports are running very smoothly!”