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Trump’s Phoenix speech: ‘lunatic’ or ‘disturbing’ or just plain scary?

Everything Trump said about his recent embarrassment over the tragedy in Charlottesville was either false, out of context or egomaniacal.

President Donald Trump listening to the cheering crowd at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Watching the president of the United States speak to supporters at the rally in Arizona last night, I settled on a new word.

In conversation, when friends asked me how I’m feeling about President Trump, I have previously relied on the word “horrified.” But watching last night, I moved to just plain “scared.” I’m scared about how this ends.

Forgive me if this is more personal reaction than reasoned analysis. The idea that Trump’s behavior during the campaign might be an act that made sense on some Bizarro Planet has passed. The hope that someone could influence him into more presidential conduct has faded steadily.

Last night, for me, that hope died. As I watched the telecast, I wrote these words across the top of my page of notes. “Bully.” “Egomaniac.” “Incoherent.” “Liar.” “Fool.” “Unhinged.” “Deranged.” (I should hasten to add that I am not a licensed psychiatrist, nor was I even a psychology major in college back in the last century. I am not qualified to use any of the more clinical of the terms above.)

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I just hope our dear nation and our small fragile planet can survive this. But I’m scared. During the speech, Trump was out of control and seemed comfortable — almost proud — of that fact. He spent much of the speech insulting the media, which (if you didn’t already know) he considers “dishonest,” “crooked” and “fake.” He said it about 30 times last night. He even claimed that he could see the TV news cameras being turned off, because he was embarrassing them so much. But those of us watching his performance on TV noticed no interruption in the feed. Strange or deranged?

I don’t have a transcript yet. But I do know this: Everything he said about his recent embarrassment over the tragedy in Charlottesville was either false, out of context or egomaniacal. He believes that everything he said in the aftermath of the tragedy was unobjectionable, he quoted extensively but highly selectively from all of the 17 versions of his efforts to explain his feelings about it, and he argued that all of them were pretty perfect but distorted by the fake media. As an example of his clever editing, he left out the version where he went off script to blame the violence on “many sides.” A lesser egomaniac might have found a way to express some regret over that blunder.

Speaking in Arizona, he denounced both of that state’s senators, both of whom are Republicans — one of whom is fighting brain cancer — and made a big joke out of refusing to say their names so no one could say that he had been mean to them.

Trump, who has not signed a single major piece of legislation (most especially a health care bill) even though his party controls both houses of Congress, whose xenophobic executive orders have been stymied by the courts, whose top staff appointments have turned into a revolving-door nightmare, told his fans last night that that he has accomplished more in his seven months in office than any president in history.

It feels as though I might have crossed the line in this piece into personal venting. But I’m scared about how this ends.

CNN had a fellow named Rick Wilson on its post-speech panel who was identified as a Republican strategist, although I gathered he had previously established his never-Trumper bona fides. He described Trump’s performance as, “Castroesque in length, an astounding chain of lies tied together by lunatic asides by a man who was mentally unstable. I’m not joking or being a smart-ass. This is a man who is not well. This is a man who is not qualified or mentally or morally fit to be president of the United States and tonight was more proof of it. He alternated between doing a 6-year-old who’s had his Nintendo taken away and being a cranky old man who’s out there condemning everyone who doesn’t worship him adequately. This was an astounding moment in our history. I know the 25th Amendment is only a remote possibility. But if the people around him don’t know that he is absolutely batcrap crazy, they are mistaken.”

(The 25th Amendment deals with a potential presidential succession if the president is disabled and unable to fulfill his role. One provision allows for the president to be replaced by the vice president if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet certify that the president is unable to perform his duties.)

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence who served in various intelligence positions under presidents of both parties also came on CNN to give his reactions, which included:

“It’s hard to know where to start. … Just so objectionable on so many levels. I don’t know when I’ve listened to and watched something like this from a president and found it more disturbing. … I really question his ability and fitness to be in this office.”

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When the CNN show’s host, Don Lemon, asked Clapper what exactly worried him most, Clapper replied that the president has the authority and the codes necessary to launch a nuclear attack, and the system is set up so that once a president has given such an order, it is not supposed to be questioned or delayed.