Opinion

Why Trump went feral again

Trump inevitably acts out whenever he is compelled to briefly pretend to be a responsible human being. Tuesday was no different.

Nobody puts Donny in the corner. Or if they do, he sure won't stay there for long.

That's a lesson we're learning again this week, after President Trump was forced by public and private pressure to issue a second statement on the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, expanding on his widely criticized first statement that violence had originated from "many sides." The "many sides" line was clearly ad-libbed, making it more likely the truer representation of Trump's feelings. And Politico later reported that "Trump had a written statement on Saturday that was similar in tone and substance to the one he delivered on Monday, according to a senior White House adviser. But the president veered from those prepared remarks." After all, when a Nazi tries to murder dozens of people and succeeds in killing one woman, one mustn't put blame on just one side.

So Trump made that second statement naming the KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis — though obviously under duress. And we know what happens when he has to do something he doesn't want to. He finds a way to act out at the earliest opportunity.

And boy, did he. Lest anyone think that he meant the statement he read, Trump tweeted, "Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied ... truly bad people!" It was almost an acknowledgement that he didn't mean what he said but only said it to stop the criticism. The Associated Press reported that Trump resisted making the second statement, and "expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media's unfair assessment of his remarks."

So soon afterward, Trump told Fox News that he was thinking of pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an authoritarian racist who was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order forbidding him from racially profiling Latinos and detaining them on suspicion of being undocumented when they hadn't committed any crime. Then Tuesday morning he took to Twitter, retweeting a cartoon in which a train labeled "Trump" runs over a person with a CNN logo replacing their head. Just the kind of imagery you want to send a clear message right after a woman is killed in a vehicular homicide. That retweet was later taken down, no doubt at the insistence of some cooler heads in the White House — but it had already been spread far and wide.

For good measure, Trump also retweeted an article about murders in Chicago, a nice "What about black crime, huh???" frosting on his cake of hatred. Did that tweet come from one of the figures behind the "Pizzagate" lunacy, in which right-wing conspiracy theorists claimed that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child molestation ring out of a D.C. pizzeria? Of course it did.

That was all prelude to his press conference Tuesday in the Trump Tower lobby, where he went out of his way not only to attack those who came to counter the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville ("You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now"), but even defended the protesters, arguing that there were just a few bad apples. "You had people in that group who were protesting the taking down of what to them is a very, very important statue," he said, referring to that of Robert E. Lee, who led a treasonous army fighting to defend slavery. "I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

As vile as it was, Trump's reaction was utterly predictable. We saw it during the campaign, when every time his aides persuaded him to give a prepared speech read off a teleprompter in an attempt to look serious, within a day or two he'd be letting his Trump flag fly in front of one of his crowds of knuckle-dragging fans. Like a toddler who is forced to behave himself in front of the guests and then retaliates at his parents by trashing his room after everyone's gone, Trump inevitably acts out whenever he is compelled to briefly pretend to be a responsible human being.

It was just days ago that pundits were welcoming the hiring of John Kelly to be Trump's chief of staff, saying that Kelly would impose order and bring a new professionalism to the White House. There may be ways in which he does that — in a White House as chaotic as this one, a little military efficiency wouldn't hurt. But whether or not Kelly succeeds as an administrator, one thing he won't be able to do is impose order on the president himself. And if he manages it for a moment or two, Trump will inevitably respond by being even more appalling.

So we should all know by now that Trump will never stop being who he is. He will never change and he will never grow. He will never come to appreciate his obligations to all Americans or the gravity of his office. He will never become more humane, or more thoughtful, or more informed, or more restrained. He will never do the right thing for the right reasons. He is Donald Trump, and to expect him to be anything else is folly.

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