Thursday’s press conference was intended to serve as a vehicle for Donald Trump to introduce Alexander Acosta, his pick to replace Andrew Puzder’s failed nomination. But not much was said about Acosta, a former U.S. attorney and dean at Florida International University’s School of Law (a nominee that is not without his own scandal, which you can read about here). At one point, Trump even struggled to pronounce his name. Instead, the press conference devolved into an excruciating circus of score-settling, lying, and theatrics.
Trump gestured wildly, commented on his skills at negotiating, and complimented himself in his familiar bravado, all while scolding the media over “fake news” and tone. There’s little takeaway here, very little that rises to the level of news per se, very little to report that’s of actual substance. The President went through a list of his “accomplishments,” noting that he didn’t think that “there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.” He rapped off a list of accomplishments including the Muslim ban and the expansion of Homeland Security to include an office for the “forgotten victims of illegal immigration.” He spoke of threats, domestic and foreign, of illegals menacing at the border, of inner cities “infested” with crime, and of a crumbling nation filled with “drugs” that are “cheaper than candy bars.”
It’s hard to summarize the range of the entire conference, but it was grotesque. As I write it here, looking over my notes, what manifests is a corrupted worldview wrought by a series of stereotypes bound to white nationalism. I wonder: what’s the point of recapping them? Of repeating stereotypes used to render violence against vulnerable populations over and over and over again? Because the President said it, it ostensibly rises to the level of newsworthy. But simply transcribing—treating brutality as mere policy—doesn’t seem quite right. Neither does the media laughing at Trump’s “jokes” during the press conference, but they did so anyway.
After Trump was finished talking about crime and walls, drug cartels and immigrants, he announced that next week he would sign a new executive action, a “comprehensive order to protect our people,” he promised. He did not elaborate on who “our people” are or what protection entails. But “our people” by its nature is an exclusionary term, it implies that there is a tangible them. “We haven’t even started the big work,” Trump said.
It’s likely that the them composed of the people Trump railed against for the first part of his press conference. But maybe the net is cast more broadly. “Obamacare is a disaster,” he reiterated for the millionth time. It was in the middle of his Obamacare rant—while complaining about constituents showing up at town halls to speak directly to their representatives—that he let slip that the protestors were “not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.” It was the truest thing that he said during the press conference.
He spoke too about Michael Flynn and Russia. It was convoluted and contradictory. Flynn, who resigned after lying to Mike Pence about speaking with Russia, “didn’t do anything wrong,” according to the President. “He was just doing his job,” Trump insisted, despite evidence otherwise. But then, playing down the reports on Russia was a leitmotif of today’s performance. “Russia is fake news put out by the media,” Trump insisted. It’s not clear to which report concerning the Trump administration and Russian influence he was referring to. It doesn’t actually seem to matter.
Russia and “fake news” were intertwined throughout today’s show. The news on Russia, like the leaks coming from the White House, are both real and not real. “The leaks are real, the news is fake,” Trump indicated. Trump spent a better part of the press conference excoriating CNN, increasingly one of his favorite targets, for saying mean things and saying them in a mean way. He criticized their tone, their coverage, he painted himself as a kind of ratings martyr, his character constantly impugned simply because the media works only to persecute. Take, for example, the “failing New York Times,” who reported on his poor treatment of women, on seedy things like sexual assault. Those women, he assured, were fine women but they were liars. “I’m not a bad person... I do get good ratings,” he said.
It’s true that Trump brings ratings and, here at Jezebel, he brings clicks, a lot of clicks, but then so do posts about brutal crimes against women. Trump seems to believe that ratings or traffic should equate with positive coverage but, of all people, he should know that outrage is far more potent.
He also spoke about Hillary Clinton. There’s little to add other than the chip on his shoulder is large and probably quite heavy.
The press conference continued to go on. Trump declared himself the “least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” before yelling “quiet, quiet, quiet!” at the reporter trying to follow up. He looked for a friendly reporter and found one. Someone asked him about Melania Trump opening the White House to tours. Melania, he said, “the highest quality,” and is a “great advocate” about “women difficulties.” He spoke about her the way the I speak about a pair of designer shoes that my mother once gave me for Christmas.
Then Trump yelled at reporter April Ryan (video above) when she asked about whether or not he would include the Congressional Black Caucus while making policies about urban America. “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” he barked at her.
That was essentially how the press conference ended. In between, Trump uttered the phrase “nuclear genocide,” and said some things about Cuba. He said a lot of things. But there was no narrative here worth pulling out, nothing worth interpretation. He ranted and raved, repeated paranoid stories about undocumented people lurking in dark shadows—the kind pulled from websites that, before his election, would have been described as fringe. Now, however, they have the attention of the President of the United States.
There’s no way to cover press conferences like this without repeating a thread of angry xenophobia or casual racism—of giving it credence by pretending that it’s news. But what’s the purpose of parroting it, of repeating it until it’s been absorbed as normal rhetoric or simply more Washington talking points? There seems to be little point in treating this as news or of the media laughing at jokes and pretending that access to this kind of grotesqueness is still important. Professionalism seems like a joke when the President is accusing you of lying and being dishonest. I’m not sure what to say about this press conference, where it even exists in the hierarchy of daily coverage, or how even to report it, but here it is.