WASHINGTON — As the nation was preparing to celebrate its storied independence from the British crown, the president secured his place as history’s greatest jester.
Or America’s first toddler president. Take your pick.
Trump did so by tweeting a doctored video clip of himself from several years ago in which he takes down wrestling magnate Vince McMahon and gives him a good pummeling. The new version superimposes the CNN logo on McMahon’s head. Get it? In the 28-second clip, Trump walks away from the fray unrumpled with nary a hair out of place.
Bizarre comes to mind. Absurd. Ridiculous. Funny, perhaps, to a certain sort. Embarrassing in the extreme to many Americans who would describe themselves as perpetually appalled. What’s next, Trump in his tighty whities atop Trump Tower punching an inflatable Vladimir Putin?
It is baffling to think that Trump is proud of himself and such high jinks, to put it charitably. We get that he’s at war with the media, hardly an original concept at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But no one has ever seen a U.S. president behave in such an idiotic manner. Most adults have a pause button in their brains that shields civilized society from impulsive, inappropriate behavior. For the president, every impulse is apparently irresistible.
For good reason, many in the journalism world have expressed deep concerns about the effect the video might have. CNN’s response said in part: “It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”
We’ve already witnessed one such event this year when Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter for The Guardian, breaking his glasses. In a comedy, the audience might applaud the tough guy punching the obnoxious reporter, but this isn’t a comedy. Please, someone tell the president.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., whose recent book laments the absence of people behaving like grown-ups in America, reacted to the video-tweet in strong language, suggesting that Trump is trying to “weaponize distrust” toward the media. It’s not as though the country’s media-haters need much encouragement to act out Trump’s looney-tunes dreamscape. It only takes one.
All is not glum, however. There have been some truly humorous moments in the aftermath of the video’s viral reception, principally from those defending Trump’s cartoon presidency. The ever-earnest Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” How’s that? Isn’t this the same Trump who offered to pay the legal fees for anyone who got in hot water for punching out a protester at one of his campaign rallies?
To Trump supporters who find the wrestling video unobjectionable or, I suspect, hilarious in some cases, I would ask that they try to imagine the same video showing Barack Obama superimposing Fox News on someone’s face, punching him repeatedly and then smugly strutting away.
Very likely these same folks would have stormed the National Mall demanding the president’s impeachment.
As an opinion columnist who draws plenty of threatening hate mail, I fear less for my personal safety than for the integrity and security of our country. I’ve covered politics off and on for 40 years, including writing a thrice-weekly column for the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post in 1980 leading up to the first Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
Never during that time or since have I ever worried that a president’s behavior would embarrass the country on the world stage. Trump’s most unpardonable offense isn’t his implied threat to members of the Fourth Estate but his minimizing of the nation’s stature in the world. Our allies must shudder while our enemies devise new ways to celebrate. Trump may crack himself up, but he also shatters any pretense of our seriousness as a nation. So much for that shining city on the hill, not to mention the president as leader of the free world.
We look like fools because our president so convincingly plays one.
Trump, naturally, begs to differ. To his mind, he’s acting perfectly presidential. His Twitter habit is simply a “modern day presidential” way of communicating. To this thought, homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert added that Trump is a “genuine president expressing himself genuinely.”
Well, there’s that.
But the act of a president using modern technology doesn’t necessarily convey presidential, as most define it.
And being genuine in Trump’s case simply means he’s a genuine fool.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post. Reach her at email@example.com.