Donald Trump didn’t so much stumble coming out of the gate, as collide with the gate, pause to scream at the gate, run back through the gate in the wrong direction, and send his surrogates forth to complain that it was all the gate’s fault.
After a less than spectacular inauguration entirely in line with his record un-landslide popular vote defeat, driving past blocks of empty bleachers, exhausting himself with a 50’ walk, and forcing the apparently baffled Melania to dance to “My Way,” Trump plopped himself on the White House couch and prepared to receive the media's adulation.
Trump turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition — massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall.
With enraged spittle flying in all directions, Trump ordered his team to war with his ancient enemy, the facts.
Over the objections of his aides and advisers — who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency — the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary.
It was Trump’s day one test, and saying that he failed would be an insult to failure.
Spicer’s resulting statement — delivered in an extended shout and brimming with falsehoods — underscores the extent to which the turbulence and competing factions that were a hallmark of Trump’s campaign have been transported to the White House.
The two factions within Trump’s White House are basically:
- Faction Red, the group that sees Trump as a means to an end and which doesn’t care what anyone thinks of the babbler-in-chief so long as they can stay heads down in reassembling the perfect world of October 28, 1929.
- Faction Orange, which doesn’t give the tiniest, tiniest damn about any policy, so long as Trump is credited for every good thing back to fiat lux, and his tanning bed burns are regularly cooled by media tongue baths.
Unfortunately for the Red guys, you can guess which faction holds Trump.
Many critics thought Spicer went too far and compromised his integrity. But in Trump’s mind, Spicer’s attack on the news media was not forceful enough. The president was also bothered that the spokesman read, at times haltingly, from a printed statement.
Lie harder, Sean. Lie harder.
Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.
“Trump feels demoralized” may be the cheeriest phrase of a decidedly uncheery season. That Trump’s bad sad comes from the public’s failure to align with his own towering God King self-image, is sweet … though of course it doesn’t mean that Trump’s self-image is reduced. Just that his divine anger is invoked.
Monday, Spicer was back at the podium with his tie adjusted, telling the press that their lying was making Trump sad, but doing it more quietly. For much of the media, being told they were liars in slightly calmer tones was enough to make them switch to “Aww, they’re being nice to us” mode.
And while Spicer didn’t repeat his lies about the size of Trump’s crowd on the ground, in his second appearance, he moved the lies about Trump's video army.
Spicer did stand by his assertion that President Trump’s inauguration set a viewership record, when combining the people who watched the ceremony in person and viewers around the country and the world who tuned in on television or online.
It’s difficult to verify the global online streaming numbers. But some viewership figures are clear: Roughly 31 million people watched the inauguration on television, according to Nielsen. Approximately 38 million people watched Obama’s 2009 inauguration on TV, and about 41 million watched Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. There’s no official estimate for how many people showed up in Washington, D.C. in 2017, but a crowd expert hired by the New York Times estimated the crowd as about a third of the 1.8 million people who attended Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Donald Trump is demoralized by that information. I hope.