How do I even begin to explain Regina George?
— Mean Girls
Every time a pundit declares Trump has become Presidential, an angel loses his wings. Trump’s biographer says that the President won’t last out the year. Personally, I give it a year and a half.
Whatever the case, here’s my promise to you: at least once a month, a talking head will declare that Trump has recently “become President.” It is as inevitable as the turning of the Earth, certain as the rising of the Sun. As long as bankers get light sentences and Colorado contains weed farms, the media will keep trying to Presidentify Trump. And it will never, ever, ever happen. Donald J. Trump is President, but he will never be “Presidential.”
That didn’t stop Glenn Thrush from trying to anoint Trump as the healer reborn. He published this article Tuesday:
The friend who sent this to me immediately declared it was more “Trump became President today” bullshit from the mainstream media. And so it is. The replies were ferocious, and well-deserved:
Thrush fired back with the Cillizza defense: I'm just asking questions! Reading Thrush's piece did not help his case. It was a return to the usual amoral horse-race coverage of politics:
Hurricane Harvey was the rarest of disasters to strike during the Trump presidency — a maelstrom not of Mr. Trump's making, and one that offers him an opportunity to recapture some of the unifying power of his office he has squandered in recent weeks.
Thrush meant to write a feature explaining how Trump could be President again. Without meaning to, he included all the reasons why this was impossible:
In announcing his trips, he used the dulcet, reassuring and uplifting language of prior presidents. His rhetoric was strikingly different from his much-criticized pronouncements at a news conference this month when he equated the actions of leftist protesters in Charlottesville, Va., with the violent, torch-wielding alt-right activists who hurled anti-Semitic and racist epithets.
Thrush's defenders, and Thrush himself, miss the point: you are trying to normalize what can never be normalized. “Rarest of disasters?” This isn't a wine cellar in the District where you're pairing Chablis with oysters. Stop treating the drowning of an American city as it was an aperitif.
We've seen this happen so many times. Tom Levenson calls it the “Trump Will Pivot™ delusion.” Greg Sargent of the Post wrote:
When disasters strike the United States, we generally are treated to not one, but two, rituals. The first unfolds around the president's efforts to project an empathizing, unifying, consoling, competent, stabilizing presence. The second unfolds around the press corps' collective rumination on whether the president passed the “test” posed to him by that imperative role and what impact that will have on his political fortunes going forward. President Trump on Tuesday is set to visit Hurricane Harvey's devastation — “Leaving now for Texas!” he just tweeted — which means both these rituals are getting underway. Indeed, multiple articles this morning are asking not just whether Trump will rise to the occasion but also whether this will afford him the opportunity for a reset of sorts amid the tumult, scandal and racial strife of his first seven months. ... questions about whether this will afford Trump a “reset” opportunity seem deeply flawed. They reflect an inability to reckon with the true depths of Trump's megalomania, disengagement from policy details and utter detachment from any sense of responsibility to the public — and with the degree to which those things are deeply intertwined with all of the racial divisiveness and abuses of power that continue to rot away at this presidency.
Stop waiting for Trump to be Presidential. It will never happen. The Orangeman just pardoned Joe Arpaio, a true American monster, two weeks after he took the side of white supremacists. That's an automatic check-out.
How many times have we done this?
It's a fantasy, a fairy tale as old as Shakespeare's Henry V. Henry was a drunken prince, and then he invaded France and began killing peasants. During the war, the king's friends are amazed by how mature the once-rambunctious monarch is now. But why should that surprise? People close to power are always discovering the most incredible virtues in their betters, like finding positive qualities in Regina George.
Remember the scene in Shawshank, where Andy crawls out the escape-pipe? That's what it's like reading pundits on Trump. On February 28, Van Jones declared on CNN that
... that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period. And he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do, if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years.
CNN's Chris Cillizza jumped in too:
Alex Pareene, writing for Deadspin about the Owens moment, had a much hotter take:
Here’s what you have to understand about the sort of people who become anchors, nonpartisan pundits, centrist columnists, and cable news political correspondents: They didn’t sign up to be the resistance. They don’t want Donald Trump to fail. They want him to “pivot” and “act presidential.” Yeah, there are guys (and it is guys, for the most part) out there who spend their whole careers trying to be Dan Rather staring down Nixon or Cronkite turning on Vietnam—or even just Tim Russert making some elected mediocrity stammer with a patented “tough question”—but mostly these guys want to be witnesses to Great Men Making History. They want to Respect The Office Of The Presidency. ... That’s why the best reviews Trump has received so far in his short, mostly disastrous presidency have come in response to the moment in last night’s joint address in which he trotted out the widow of a service member—a SEAL whose death he’d denied any responsibility for just a few hours earlier—to a sustained standing ovation and rapturous press coverage.
On April 6, MSNBC’s Brian William, referring to Tomahawk missiles, said:
We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.” And they are beautiful pictures, of fearsome armaments making what is, for them, a brief flight over this airfield.
On April 8, when Trump decided to bomb Syria, Fareed Zakaria said
So I think that what is interesting is even the way in which he justified his actions, President Trump did-for the first time, really, as president, he talked about international norms, international rules, about America’s role in enforcing justice in the world. It was the kind of rhetoric that we have come to expect from American presidents since Harry Truman, but it was the kind of rhetoric that President Trump had pointedly never used, either on the campaign trail nor in his inaugural. So I think there has been an interesting morphing and a kind of education of Donald Trump.
Foreign Policy praised Trump’s “Presidential” Afghanistan speech on August 22. Six days ago, the Brookings Institute published an essay commending Trump on making the “right move on Afghanistan.” The Editor’s note read:
... Amid trying circumstances, with no great policy options available to him, they commend Trump for making a difficult and very presidential decision about future American policy.
Stop telling us that Trump has become President. A better question: when will you hold Trump to account? That’s the only question worth asking, and there is only one answer worth hearing: “Now.”