We laugh at the Trump press conference - but the joke is really on us
Presidency is like a long season of The Office, with Trump as the self-obsessed buffoon
US President Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference at the White House on Thursday. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Watching Donald Trump’s freak show of a press conference, it’s painfully clear that we have all made a terrible mistake.
For the last several months we all thought we were watching the presidential version of Celebrity Apprentice. Trump was going to walk into our living rooms, fire somebody at random, and then happily walk out.
In fact, we have our shows all mixed up. This is actually a very long season of The Office, with our new president playing the role of a self-obsessed buffoon who clearly thinks he’s smart, funny, kind and successful.
Trump is the boss we all know so well, and never want to see again. The one winging it at every turn, in every sentence. The one who just read something, or talked to somebody, and is now an Olympic-sized expert.
“I have been briefed,” he declared, as he explained what passes for his poodle-like policy towards Vladimir Putin.
“And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Coming from the mouth of Ricky Gervais or Steve Carell, this might be rather funny. But as we know from the guests at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump travels with military aides who carry real nuclear codes.
It’s great that he’s reading the most basic books about that nuclear holocaust. Who knew it could be so awful to obliterate the planet?
He’s also been reading about uranium, which is cool. It’s best if he explains this one in his own words: “You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons, like lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things.”
But enough with all the briefings about bad things. Let’s get to the important stuff that president Trump wanted to tell us.
In theory, the press conference was called to reveal the name of the all-important Labor Secretary, whose identity will only get recalled on Jeopardy. He’s replacing the guy who quit after a reporter dug up the video tape of his ex-wife on Oprah. Talk about a bad hombre.
But all that was just a bait-and-switch for the real subject of Trump’s obsession: himself. In painful detail, the president took the trouble to explain his thought process in real time, as problems bubble up to the thing that sits under his combover.
Most White House reporters and presidential historians long for this kind of insight: how does a commander-in-chief deal with a crisis? What is his decision-making approach to all the world’s challenges?
Sadly in Trump’s case, it turns out the answers are astonishingly simple.
Let’s consider the first big test of Trump’s management of this branch office of the paper company: the strange firing of General Mike Flynn, formerly one of his closest and craziest advisers, handling bad things like uranium.
“As far as the general’s concerned, when I first heard about it, I said huh, that doesn’t sound wrong. My counsel came, Don McGahn, White House counsel, and he told me and I asked him, he can speak very well for himself. He said he doesn’t think anything is wrong, you know, really didn’t think.”
So now we have two people in the Oval Office who think, kind of: huh, nothing wrong with talking to the Russians and lying about it.
But let’s hear more from the 45th president: “I waited a period of time and I started to think about it, I said “well I don’t see... to me, he was doing the job.”
So even after a period of reflection, Trump still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. (Note to the nervous: good to know he waits before he acts.)
“The information was provided by - who I don’t know, Sally Yates, ” he explained, unclear or unimpressed by his acting attorney general, a career official who earned her last promotion with bipartisan support.
“And I was a little surprised because I said ‘doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.’ But he did something wrong with respect to the vice president and I thought that was not acceptable.”
So that’s clear. Trump fired Flynn for doing something wrong to Mike Pence even though he did his job well.
That “something wrong” would be lying about something totally fine, in Trump’s view.
But why is Trump so confident that this isn’t such a big deal? “As far as the actual making the call,” he told the nation, “in fact I’ve watched various programs and I’ve read various articles where he was just doing his job.”
If Donald Trump is qualified for any job - and that’s a rather big if, based on this press conference - it’s clear that he wants to be a media critic on Fox News.
In his considered analysis, the state of the media today is just astonishing. “Russia is fake news,” he declared, dismissing the investigations that will engulf his entire presidency, if not a whole country.
“Russia - this is fake news put out by the media.”
This kind of fakery is, Trump suggested, cooked up in part by Obama hangovers whom he will likely root out of government in due course. In the meantime, the great revelation for the commander-in-chief is that The Wall Street Journal is just as bad as The New York Times.
“I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest,” he revealed, before encouraging reporters to bypass his hapless press secretary.
“But I will say that I never get phone calls from the media,” he said, sounding more than a little hurt.
“How did they write a story like that in The Wall Street Journal without asking me, or how did they write a story in The New York Times, put it on front page?”
How indeed. The Guardian will happily accept the president’s help any time he can fit us into his obviously empty schedule. We have another story going out today, if that’s OK.
To be sure, there are many pundits who think this kind of circus plays well in Trump Country.
The rust belt surely loves this kind of braggadocious presidency combined with constant media bashing.
Much like the epic mockumentary, it’s clear that President Ricky Gervais has no idea how unintentionally funny he is.
The only difference is that this boss is armed with uranium and he has no idea what to do now. Which means the joke is really on us.