The American and French flags, their twinned red, white and blue rustling in the light breeze. The crystalline sky and the fresh shorn grass. And the small white gravestones — markers for the nearly 10,000 Americans who lost their lives in the D-Day invasion — stretching on endlessly toward the horizon.
The backdrop of the hallowed Normandy cemetery was a postcard tableau for the well-received speech President Trump was about to deliver on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in which he extolled honor, self-sacrifice and those heroes who “placed themselves into the palm of God’s hand.”
But first, the president had a few things he wanted to share with Fox News.
Just moments before the historic celebration Thursday, Trump sat for an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham and, with little prompting, railed against his enemies, real and perceived.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, he said, was a “fool.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) he blasted as “a disgrace” — “a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.” And Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) he dismissed as a crying disaster, as a “total political, you know, jerk.”
Trump’s five-day trip to Europe revealed again how Trump enjoys playing the role of the American president — but will never stop being Trump.
His staff often tries to rein him in, choreographing his days with an alchemic mix of structure and downtime, or presenting him with teleprompter speeches to deliver. But ultimately, Trump himself dictates his own conduct — choosing when to unleash pre-dawn Twitter tirades or squeeze himself into a tailcoat as tradition requires.
“If he felt slightly out of place at Buckingham Palace or on the world stage, you revert to the familiar,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian, noting that while George W. Bush famously traveled the world with his feather pillow in tow, Trump instead brings his phone — and its Twitter app.
Meacham added that while previous presidents often traveled abroad to escape domestic controversies and elevate themselves as global players, Trump seems to tote the morass overseas, as if tucked into his carry-on next to the toiletries.
“What’s so predictable and self-defeating about Trump is that instead of using the world stage to escape domestic political strife, this for him is just another arena in which to be on Fox News,” Meacham said. “You’re not making peace and commemorating our dead. You’re making points and bestowing nicknames.”
Trump has long existed in a split-screen presidency — the duties of the job juxtaposed with a shattering of norms. But in Europe, as he hopped between Britain, Ireland and France, the president seemed to enter something of a montage, perhaps set to the “Looney Tunes” theme song.
Yes, he attended a Buckingham Palace state banquet, wearing a white tie, dining on new season Windsor lamb and strawberry sable with lemon verbena cream. In Portsmouth, England, he read the prayer President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared on the eve of the invasion, and a day later, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, he spoke movingly of how “our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war and proven in the blessings of peace.” He even greeted schoolchildren at his private golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, in a visit that was apparently controversy-free.
Abbi Shanahn, 16, one of three Irish siblings who met the president, described the experience as “mad, so surreal.”
Yet, on the same trip, Trump also attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter as “a stone cold loser” before even touching down in the country; late-night tweeted that performer Bette Midler was a “washed up psycho”; threatened the United Kingdom’s beloved National Health Service in trade negotiations before reversing himself; and, of course, attacked his political rivals in the shadow of Normandy cemetery.
Trump’s interview with Ingraham is hardly the first time he has issued controversial statements in incongruous settings. On his first full day in office, the president visited CIA headquarters and stood before its wall of stars — honoring intelligence officers who died in the line of duty — to blast the media for its coverage of his inauguration’s crowd size.
He delivered a rollicking stemwinder at the Boy Scout Jamboree, where he dropped the word “hell” and veered dangerously close to sharing the story of a wealthy friend who bought a yacht and led “a very interesting life” that was decidedly not rated PG. More recently, Trump attacked the late senator John McCain at a General Dynamics tank factory in Ohio before a largely military crowd.
On Friday, as he was heading home, Trump went after Pelosi on Twitter, unhappy that the Speaker told Democrats behind closed doors that she preferred to see Trump “in prison” rather than impeached.
“Nervous Nancy Pelosi is a disgrace to herself and her family for having made such a disgusting statement, especially since I was with foreign leaders overseas,” he wrote.
What Trump seemed to ignore was that, just the previous day, he too was launching domestic attacks on foreign soil, disparaging Pelosi in personal terms during his interview with Ingraham.
Pelosi sat just a few hundred yards away at the same ceremony, waiting for the D-Day program to begin.
Amanda Ferguson contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the majority leader.