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Yeah, that press conference was nuts. But it also showed Trump at his calmest and, dare I say it, his sweetest.

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump speaking during a Thursday news conference at the White House.

Welcome to Day 100 or Day 1,000 or Day whatever-it-is — anyway a really great Day with a number that keeps changing — of America’s Adventure in Trumpland, where factual reality is a distant echo of a planet that has not yet been sighted but is rumored to exist.

Our president gave a hastily arranged but 77-minute-long press conference that kicked off with Trump’s announcement of a new candidate for Labor secretary. But whatever that guy’s name was (Alexander Acosta), he was not present, and his nomination was immediately lost in the whirligig of weirdness that followed, which had less than a soupçon to do with Acosta.

The norms of journalism are not sufficient to the task of wrangling this event into even a false appearance of coherence. You owe it to yourself to watch the whole thing, a video of which the New York Times embedded into this excellent link, which also has a transcript, although the transcript ends before Trump is done. Because why? Because the transcriptioner had a breakdown or the internet ran out of space or (your guess here)?

A lot of the reviewers are claiming that Trump’s overall performance was angry. Bordering on deranged. And maybe he looks that way on the transcript because he certainly berates the world, or at least the media, for not giving him the admiration he deserves. (The Trump egotism and egocentrism were on full display, as he modestly asserted of his first month in office that “we have made incredible progress. I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done.”)

But if you watch the video you might agree with me that this was actually Trump at his calmest and, dare one say it, his sweetest. To me, he didn’t seem angry and was seemed to be attempting a charm offensive. When an African-American reporter asked him whether he planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump said he would and then, rather strangely — but with apparent sincerity — asked the reporter if she would help set up such a meeting. Crazy maybe, and suggesting that he is stopping any person of color he runs into to ask for help in reaching out. But not angry.

He showed a strange playful quality as he urged the reporters, before they could question him, to ask something “nice,” and then worked his review of their niceness quotient into his answer, even as he insulted them, the questioners and the assembled media, for their mendacity or hostility or stupidity or other virtues. I swear, you have to watch it because while he comes across as a deranged egotist in the transcript, he comes across in a much nicer way — though still a little deranged — when you can see his face and hear his voice as he turns up the charm.

I seem to be the only who saw it this way.

Although Trump almost begged the audience not to interpret what he said as ranting and raving. He actually said: “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves.’ I’m not ranting and raving.”

It’s true that former President Obama, who stayed cool under all kinds of pressure, might take up ranting and raving when he reads Trump’s comments. Because Trump went to great lengths to imply (much more than imply) that Obama's successor had inherited a steaming poopload of problems in the economy, the world situation, etc.

It went (as the old bandleaders used to say) something like this:

Trump: “As you know, our administration inherited many problems across the government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad. A mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what's going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we'll take care of it folks; we're going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”

Several of the disasters he inherited, Mr. Trump modestly acknowledged, are already well on their way to being cleaned up, but others will take a while, although he is off to a fast start because of conversations has already had with the leaders of long-time allies and major rivals, discussion that he described as “really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.” 

Again, it sounds insulting to tell those in the room that they are incapable of grasping just how productive these talks have been, but it came across to me as a man who's less on the attack than he is desperate to impress.

Of course, if it’s facts you care about, it was Obama who took office amid an economic calamity that started under his predecessor. It was Obama who inherited a GDP suffering its worst collapse since the Great Depression. While there are lots of ways measure the economy — and not all of the numbers during the Obama years were stellar — Trump inherited a country at what economists call “full employment,” that had racked up pretty steady growth for seven consecutive years. The stock market had a great eight-year run under Obama and the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. fell.

The Obama growth rate was not spectacular by historical standards, but it was among the best in the developed world in the period coming out of the Great Recession. Mr. Trump got away with exaggerating the problems he inherited and is clearly prepared to exaggerate whatever improvements occur during his tenure. I hope he will be able to develop the kind of growth he claims he will. Time and events will tell.

Given the recent events that led to the resignation of Trump's national security advisor, and the now widely-accepted (perhaps not by Trump) finding that Russia conspired to help Trump win the election, some of the questions naturally went to suspicions about an unholy alliance. But Trump explained that “Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.”

Here’s a fuller summary of what Trump said is going on between Russia and himself:

“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that’s the extent. Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.”

So that should settle that. Oh, and Trump stated just the simple fact that (notwithstanding the firing of Gen. Michael Flynn, and the fact that Trump’s first choice to replace Flynn turned down the offer, and a few other hiccups) that: “This administration is running like a fine- tuned machine.”

Here’s FactCheck.org’s calm, tough but fair workup of the accuracy issues with some of the claims Trump made Thursday. 

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Comments (19)

If you say so, BUT

If that was Trump at his calmest and sweetest, then I really am worried. Heck of it is, I have no idea if you are right or wrong, Eric. That might be his intent; he might have pulled it off as planned; that still doesn't dissuade me from thinking this man has serious personality disorders.

Calmy Incoherent

It was a strange event. I agree with you Eric that this wasn't the performance of a raving lunatic, but still was very strange experience. Trump was strangely calm and dare I say almost sincere, while at the same time saying the most outrageous stuff.

I do worry deeply about a leader who seems utterly incapable of saying I'm wrong, I'm sorry.

and...

and who calls out anyone else who interrupts him, but it's ok if he constantly interrupts the media and others....and berates women, minorities, and even a few white men. He not only has never matured, he is a bully and a narcissist and a man who obviously has to put down others to feel superior. The USA is now the joke of the world (and we thought Minnesota was a joke when we elected Jesse, no comparison!).

Yes, you may be one of the few who saw it that way

because what I saw was disturbing. Outright lies are disturbing.

First, his insecurities are

First, his insecurities are most visible on his referencing his election win. He brings it up in every public appearance when it is entirely not necessary and with each telling it has to be the biggest win ever.

Is there anyone confused about the fact that he was elected president ? I don't think so. But he is so very desperate to be the biggest winner ever.

The issue is to move beyond the cloud of lies floating around the scale of the win and move into governing.

Second, with respect to Russia, he still hasn't come clean to the full extent of contacts and coordination. 5 calls from Flynn in one day to the Russian ambassador? Why would the intelligence chief not understand that there is on-going surveillance of the Russian ambassador ? What response is he going to have regarding recent Russian provocations ? Can't even make a public denunciation of those actions other than saying they're "bad" ?

Third, his inability to condemn racism or anti-semitism in a clear, direct manner is now at the point where it speaks more than his "outrage" at being asked the question. Is this his "radical Islamic terrorism" phrase --that lends comfort and aid to the perpetrators ?

Fourth--what kind of master-strategist treats an important part of the public sphere that report and judge his action with such contempt? No mercy and no forgiveness will be found there in the future.

Fifth--where is the President as a "uniter ?"

"calmest, sweetest?..."t

Wow now that was the calmest and sweetest interpretation,eh?

...or I would say more like if he were talking to his mother, maybe after he just smashed all the basement school janitor's windows because he had been kicked out of third grade class..." Really Mama, it was the other kids ( darn.reporters fault)...I was only standing watching those 'bad kids' do it...honest!"

He presented himself as 'damaged goods' and blaming the press etc...now there's a sad example of what he will do on policy issues: domestic and world issues if he ever gets his act together...sad scary, yes indeed...

Sadness

There was an element of sadness to it. Donald Trump is someone who craves love and affection, and the hurt he feels in not receiving it is quite genuine. He is also someone who is beginning to understand that he is something completely over his head, and he doesn't know what to do about it. I have to say, I am not unsympathetic to his plight. But the problem remains that we have elected a man who is unfit to president, and we just don't have a way to get out of the mess in which we irresponsibly placed ourselves.

Adjustment

Yes, me being the eternal optimist. I keep hoping that he will have an epiphany and learn about humility, truthfulness, setting realistic expectations, transparency, communicating professionally, etc. Unfortunately it seems very hard for him to learn from his mistakes. Only time will tell.

Maybe we will have President Pence in office because Trump finally snaps due to the strain between reality and what is in his head. :-)

He is a delusional serial liar.

If he has no dealings with Russia then he should release his income tax records and business records.

Nobody who knows "Minnesota

Nobody who knows "Minnesota Nice" needs to be told that a person doesn't have to shout or scream to be doing a rant. Eric is right to contrast Trump's controlled demeanor and deliberately "normal speaking voice" (on the soft, creepy side, actually) with the violence of the transcribed Trump utterance yesterday. It was a performance of passive aggression to a breath-taking degree.

The sadism in yesterday's press conference stemmed from its lack of necessity (a nominee for a position? 77 minutes of rant presented as ramble?). But the sadism continued as Trump settled into the realization that--at that moment and for as long as he felt like keeping them there--he controlled the entire press of the United States and the foreign press. He could say what he wanted, almost without contradiction (bless the guy who actually got Trump to backtrack on the electoral college margin!). So he did, wandering off to this and that irrelevancy o to this or that inaccuracy.

I found him to be an extremely sad figure, a lonely man who desperately needs the approbation not only of the crowd cheering him (I hear he's off to a "campaign event" this weekend where there will be people who'll cheer him), but of all those who report the news and interpret it for the public. He can't deal with a free press. He never will be able to deal with a free press.

But further, Trump is showing deep personal problems that no one in his life seems to have forced him to deal with; no one apparently has called him on that falsely-controlled "soft voice" to tell him that it's one of the scariest features of his self-presentation.

That was one frightening press event, for America.

Unsettling, worrisome, probably effective

I watched it live and found the first 23 minutes - when he was reading from text or notes - the weakest performance by a president since Nixon's resignation speech. I'm not being hyperbolic; it was defensive, it was rambling, it smacked of desperation less than one month in office.

Then, when he started taking questions, the qualities you've noted came out...he clearly enjoys dancing with the press and is effective at it (though I thought he visibly flagged at the end).

I was disturbed by the number of times the press played along with Mr. Trump's schtick - Jim Acosta bantering back and forth about ratings, for example, or the room of guffaws when Trump decided the new term was "very fake news" - and in so doing helped "normalize" (yes, we're overusing it, but it's accurate) that the president of the United States is a compulsive liar, a corrosive force pitted against our institutions and - as Mr. Walker notes above - wholly unfit for the office he holds. Even the much-heralded "live fact checking" of NBC's Peter Alexander was half-assed as he passed on the opportunity to ask the obvious follow up, "Shouldn't the standard for what the president says be somewhere above, 'I've heard people say it?'"

As has been noted elsewhere, the White House press corp better realize sooner than later that "access journalism" is a poor substitute for actual journalism with this administration. Yesterday, I saw a press corp that reared up on its hind legs and squeaked. As he demonstrated so effectively on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has a battle-tested method for dealing with questions he doesn't like - the "blizzard of words" response that consists of non-sequiturs, asides, incoherency, sentence fragments and such - and unless there's follow up - pointed, persistent, obnoxious, rude follow up - he skates away (and does so in a way that even after-the-fact follow ups are impossible because he and his advocates can assert any interpretation they want because he's said both everything and nothing). That technique was on full display yesterday and it was only through the combined efforts of several journalists that I saw him pinned down once (on the question of contacts with Russia during the campaign).

In terms of overall effectiveness, this morning, the cable networks are falling all over themselves to find out how the performance played with "real people" and the anecdotal evidence is that if you liked Trump before, you thought it was a tour de force. If you had questions or were in opposition before, you had a different, less positive, reaction. Thus, I'm sure Mr. Trump thinks it a success because it plays to his base and that's the only audience he actually seems to care about.

My favorite "man on the street" bit was the MSNBC reporter who stake out one of the Congressional thoroughfares in the Capitol and asked the members for one-word reactions. Almost to a person, every Democrat had seen it and had a reaction; all but one Republican said, "Gee, I was tied up and didn't get a chance to see it."

It was also probably effective because it let Mr. Trump blow off some steam and feel like he's punching back. I get the sense that he dislikes the insulation of the White House (three weekends in a row at Mar-a-Lago?). Thus, the trip today to Boeing - which will be nothing more than a commercial for the company's 787 aircraft with the President mugging for the camera and claiming credit for reducing the cost of the next generation's Air Force One fleet - and tomorrow's rally in Florida will recharge his batteries.

And we're less than a month in.

And Eric represents the problem

The bar has now been set so low that journalists like Eric have completely abandoned their standards. At least Peter Alexander and Shep Smith understand that Trump needs to rise up, the media doesn't need to stoop down.

This press conference might have been amusing if were being held by America's Next Top Model or The Bachelorette. But not when it's the leader of the free world.

I'll be calm:

and say it as it was seen/heard, more BS than can be shoveled, not just parts anymore, everything! The underlying objective from this perspective is: Trump is a Putin fan, (suppose no one knew that) Trump is an authoritarian, and is clearly using every trick in the fascist manifesto to undermine our system. gain power and run America like Putin runs Russia, he is setting up the cabinet with , American style oligarchs, and the republican congress and senate are helping, Now he is going to Florida to rally the troops because he's not getting the oohs and aahs from people that pay attention to facts and details, He needs the folks that he BS'd before, bought into this line of fascism, to pay homage to the great one, recharge the ego, these folks are so bought in they can't back out without looking like an idiot. As Jim Jones would probably say, just keep them drinking the kool-aid! Yep, he'll make America great again just like Putin is making Russia great again!

Eye of the hurricane

What you saw was the calm before the storm. We read he is thinking about using the National Guard to sweep up undocumented workers, which he denies, which probably makes it true.

Or if we lived in Phoenix, if had been 120 degrees for weeks and a cool wave came along that dropped to 102, it still isn't cool. Using any recent President as an example, Trump is a nut case which he showed again at the press conference. Even with Reagan slipping into Alzheimer's in his second term, he never lost it like Trump.

With Trump, we have learned that dishonesty is the norm and that he cannot relate to others on an equal basis. Asking the black reporter to set up a meeting - and why would he think that a reporter would do a favor for him? He was pretending to be human and not convincingly.

With Trump, you either his enemy or his friend, and friends are expected to be lap dogs. If you want to find something favorable to say about him, making him actually do something good. Actions are real - their consequences can be judged.

Many of his opponents say appointing a General Mattis Defense Secretary was a good choice, as he will try to protect us from getting in a "Trump temper tantrum" war. But there was no good that comes out of Trump talking, as his nasty talk does no one any good.

Nope ..

The man is unhinged. I concur with the mentioning of the level of passive aggressiveness brought up in another post. I had/have this sense of the build up to Nixion's self imposed downfall repeating. Some of the same feelings, thoughts and incriminations seem to be repeating in a highly compressed time frame. This guy might be thinking he is doing a shock and awe and he is but it is not coming across as he might be hoping. Shock and awe is meant to stun. The inverse is happening. The public is becoming outraged. And is biting back.

Trump: shallow, deluded and tired.

I think trump's not so much calm or sweet as very tired, and that his tiredness comes from fear and disbelief as he realizes the reality of governing versus his long-held fantasy of it.
He and the people he surrounds himself with decided long ago that politicians, newspeople, scientists -- any experts -- are all (inexplicably) stupid, without once trying to learn about the work they actually do.
It was obvious from his travel ban document that it had never occurred to him that the State Department in its two hundred years of handling immigrants and refugees might have thought up a few rules and procedures, tried them out and refined them.
No, trump is the first and only person to think about such things! History, and briefings, have nothing to teach him. He's smart, after all.
To head off panic at his realization of reality, he's doubling down on what has kept him going up to now: bullying, lies, insistence on how great and unique he is, attempts to charm us, revisiting his triumphant campaign and election.
It's all shallow, fake, and futile.
Put this man and all of us out of this misery: impeach him for lying, for incompetence, for putting in the Cabinet people who want to destroy the departments they've been appointed to head, for mental unfitness to do the job he was so unfortunately elected to do. Before he does even greater harm to the country.

I Was Hopeful that This Might Happen Soon

but now I'm convinced that the Republicans in Congress will never impeach him,...

no matter what he does,...

because that would make the Republican Party look bad,...

and appearances are ALL they care about and all they HAVE, at this point.

Trump is so unprecedented,...

that we, the press, the public, the commentariat, will mostly just go along to get along.

There will be constant cautions and complaints,...

but no one will ever actually pull the fire alarm in this increasingly smoke-filled theater,...

let alone point out that our President and his advisors are the ones holding the flame throwers.

Just as with Global Climate Change,...

far too many of us simply can't wrap our minds around the fact that our stable, predictable lives may be in danger of being "disrupted,"...

to the point of being completely pulled out from under us,...

and we won't until that danger becomes so overwhelming,...

as to make it clear that societal, economic, and ecological collapse are already happening (for most, though some will STILL deny that anything's wrong),...

by then, the possible fixes to TrumpCo and to Climate Change,...

will be societally and personally very costly,...

if such fixes can be successfully accomplished at all.

Trump knows he's in over his

Trump knows he's in over his head, and that he himself is flailing and failing.

A small item thta struck me because I became convinced over the eight years of the Obama presidency that the intelligence agencies--and perhaps the Pentagon too--had frightened Obama with their security briefings on the dangers facing our country. Obama seemed to cater to security agencies' views and didn't dare NOT follow through with their recommendations. He became obsessed with leaks as well, and doubled down on surveillance.

With that Obama hesitancy in mind: Have you listened to Trump's comments on the daily security briefings he has finally agreed to listen to? Trump refused those briefings during the entire transition period, but now has them because Presidents have to have them, and they frighten the bejeezus out of him. He mutters that the public has no idea of the dangers out there, really scary. Yeah. And all he can think to do is batten down the hatches, hunker down in panic and terror, demonize his critics and think of siccing the National Guard on us.

Poor man. The Peter Principle incarnate (someone who rises finally to somewhere definitely above his capacities).

Parse Mr. Black's Words Carefully

I don't believe Mr. Black was saying that Trump is sweet and calm by his nature. Or that Trump is a good guy, or doesn't lie, or anything like what some commentators here are saying. Sheesh. he's saying the during the Q & A, Trump's demeanor was outwardly sweet and calm. I listened to part of it live, and heard and watched other parts later, and I didn't think he in any way sounded not calm, or vengeful or whatever. But that's just a comment on his delivery, and not the words themselves.

I can easily imagine how Trump's legion of fans could watch that Q & A and think, "See, he's not ranting and raving."