Well Beyond the Post-Factual

BY MARTIN KICH

The following are excerpts from an item published by Politico and written by Shane Goldmacher and Matthew Nussbaum. The article describes Donald Trump’s first “official” speech as President, delivered at CIA headquarters. The tone of the piece is remarkably unsparing, especially for Politico:

Standing on hallowed ground at the Langley headquarters, in front of the wall of stars carved into marble to represent each of the 117 CIA agents who have died in service to the country, Trump lashed out at his critics, boasted of his appearances on magazine covers and exaggerated about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

“He also hinted at loosening rules on torture put in place under President Barack Obama, promised to wipe ‘radical Islamic terrorism . . . off the face of the earth’ and pledged his full backing to the CIA.

“’I am so behind you,’ Trump said, adding, ‘You’re gonna get so much backing. Maybe you’re gonna say, please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.’ . . .

“Roughly 400 CIA employees attended the speech, for which there had been an open invitation. The self-selected crowd repeatedly interrupted Trump cheering and clapping.

“But the appearance rubbed some in the intelligence community the wrong way. . . .

“Trump, who also met briefly with senior agency leaders before his remarks, reveled in the friendly crowd before him. ‘Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me,’ he claimed at one point. ‘But I will not ask you to raise your hands.’”

“’I can only say that I am with you 1,000 percent. And the reason you’re my first stop—‘ Trump said before dramatically changing direction, ‘— is that as you know I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth. Right? And they sort of made it sound like I have this feud with the intelligence community.’

“The feud was not the media’s creation. Trump had compared the intelligence community’s leaks about him to ‘Nazi Germany’ on Twitter, and then repeated that charge in a news conference 10 days ago. He also used so-called scare quotes to cite the ‘intelligence’ agencies on Twitter. . . .

“Trump drew laughs from the crowd when he described reporters as ‘the most dishonest human beings’ and claimed he’d drawn as many as 1.5 million people to his inauguration despite official estimates closer to 200,000 and repeated images of empty standing spaces. A few miles away, at the White House, Trump aides were soon setting up pictures of the crowd inside the press briefing room.

“Trump went on to boast about how many covers of Time magazine he has appeared on. . . .

“Trump also touted his intellect in a brief aside. ‘Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart person,’ he said.”

 

Even tor a very casual, moderately informed observer, it should be very clear that Trump’s tone and much of what he chose to comment on in this venue was not just inappropriate but erratically so. Clearly, the very modest turnout at his inauguration has rankled him to the point that he could not shift his focus completely or even primarily to intelligence issues.

For the record, here are two photos, published by Slate, of the Capitol Mall during the inaugurations of President Obama and President Trump:

aerials-of-obama-and-trump-inaugurations

It is worth noting that the top photo has been taken from two to three times the distance from the Capitol in order to capture as much of the crowd as possible. One wonders what photos Trump aides put up around the White House.

That Trump is being so transparently dishonest while calling the media dishonest is all the more confounding when one consider his audience: surely, intelligence professionals would be able to confirm very easily something as basic as the attendance at a public event.

But beyond these very obvious issues, the manner in which Trump is talking to these professionals seems odd, and that is if one is being generous: “’I am so behind you. You’re gonna get so much backing. Maybe you’re gonna say, please, don’t give us so much backing, . . . please, we don’t need that much backing.’” If one presented the quotation completely out of context to a hundred people, would any one of them guess that this is the President of the United States speaking from a podium to intelligence professionals at the CIA headquarters? I am guessing that one could enlarge the survey to a thousand or even to a million people without affecting the results. I don’t know whom or what Trump is trying to sound like, but it’s not any former President.

And even if a President wishes to cast himself as a “transformational” or “revolutionary” figure—as someone who is transcending the usual expectations of the office—he or she still needs to behave and to sound “presidential” or risk losing the authority that the office provides to whoever holds it.

Lastly, the references to the number of magazine covers on which his photo has appeared and his assertions about his own intelligence come across as thin-skinned to a very juvenile and embarrassing degree. The latter begs the question of whether he is somehow linking national intelligence with his own intelligence, as if one could be measured against the other. But if you feel compelled to ask in a speech whether you are an “intellectual” or even a “smart person,” the question is not just rhetorical but very likely loaded with unintended irony.

Whoever is advising President Trump is doing him—and the country—a disservice if they do not make what is obvious to almost everyone else more obvious to the President.  Granted, one does not get the sense that the President has surrounded himself with advisers who are inclined to offer this sort of input. And it may very well be that he simply is not receptive to “criticism.” But that is another sort of issue altogether, even if it brings us back around to where the Politico article and this post started.

 

The complete article in Politico is available at: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/trump-cia-langley-233971.

 

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