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At the CNN Town Hall Trump was Having a Blast
Our first clown president wants to do it again. How far will the press go to help him?
Did you see Trump’s Town Hall on CNN last week? (For the record, I didn’t. I saw the clips and read the reports. That was enough.) CNN bent over backward to accommodate him—a prime-time spot, a hand-chosen audience (not allowed to boo or hiss but encouraged to applaud), a moderator who clearly couldn’t handle both Trump and his friends, and a chance to retell the Big Lie—that he’d won the 2020 election and everyone knows it. He told so many lies in the 70 minutes he was on stage most of the people counting them gave up after a while.
It went exactly as planned. It went exactly as those of us who have watched this man for years knew it was going to go. It couldn’t go any other way. Trump had to be in charge. It was the only way he’d agree to do it, and he knew going in he would get everything he demanded.
He’d spent the day before fuming over the fact that E. Jean Carroll had won a civil suit against him and now he’d have to figure out a way to keep from paying the $5 million judgement awarded after a jury found him guilty on multiple counts, including defamation and sexual assault.
He needed a victory, and he found it at the CNN Town Hall.
On that stage at the hated CNN his revenge was going to be the spectacle that was Donald the unflappable. Donald the victorious. Donald the entertainer.
Remember that day in mid-June 2015, when Trump rode his golden escalator down into the depths, digging deep into a Chaplinesque version of a stiff-chinned Benito Mussolini as he announced he was going to run for president, not just to save a dying America but to build a great wall and make Mexico pay for it?
Remember how we laughed?
I wasn’t the only one who saw his imperious ride down the escalator as tongue-in-cheek performance art, a bid to push that crazy idea he’d been tossing around for years — a loony-ass run for the presidency.
Yes, of the United States.
On that day, as the chosen hotel crowd cheered and the cameras flashed, Trump knew he was on to something big. His addiction to attention grew to fever pitch. To keep the attention alive, he was going to do whatever he had to do. Ever the entertainer, his act became high theater: he would be the one nominee nobody would ever forget.
Getting attention is everything to Donald Trump. It’s an addiction that consumes him. He ran for president not because he and he alone had the chops to get the job done, but because he craves attention and how better to get it than to announce a presidential run?
Trump never really expected to win. Sitting in the Oval Office for four years was never his plan. He ran for the highest office in the land as a special kind of joke. He could see himself performing on stages all across the country as the man who could have and should have been president. It would have been the career boost of a lifetime for a high-class flim-flam man, and he could do it with far less effort and a lot more fun than having to be an actual president.
Early in the primary season, when he saw he would be just one of 12 other candidates on the debate stage, he knew he couldn’t compete politically, so he chose to do the thing he does best: He went all comic entertainer. He built an act around teasing and tormenting his fellow candidates. He called them silly names. He made airy promises that nobody in their right mind believed. When he wasn’t painting the government as weak and inept, he was sloshing bright red MAGA paint all over a political system he portrayed as dark and sinister and amateurish and antiquated.
People—even those who saw right through him—sat up and took notice. The press loved him. The deplorables loved him. And he loved that he’d finally found something that would keep millions of eyes directly on him.
Nothing excites Trump’s Vaudevillian brain more than a rapt audience. So, to that eternal question, “Is he serious?”, no, he’s never been serious. Trump loves schlock, shock, and chaos, especially when the theater is on fire.
This is what he lives for.
When he uses the words “beautiful” and “fun” in totally inappropriate sentences (“Kim Jong Un writes me the most beautiful letters”. “Are you having fun? This is fun. Right?”), he wants us to be entertained. It keeps us from looking beyond his carefully built caricature to see how ugly his ugly side really is.
But he’s a weak man, a pretender, and he can’t go on hiding his weaknesses behind a clown face forever. He was never a president. He’s not even a comic imitation of a president. He’s a menace because he isn’t serious, and he isn’t serious because that would require studying and contemplation—two things Trump could never pull off.
His only function is to keep the Trump legend alive. We knew long before he was president that he’d go to any lengths to promote himself. We knew, for example, that he became “John Barron” and sometimes “David Dennison”, pretending to be his own press agent. We heard the tapes of his phone calls and recognized not just his voice but his distinctive speech patterns. We knew it was him. He alternately denies it and admits it. He doesn’t care which is the truth.
We knew he was dishonest and corrupt and given to fits of red hot revenge, but if we thought we could shame him by exposing that or any of his other shameful traits we learned early on it was a lost cause. He feels no shame, no remorse, no regret, no guilt. Any human feelings were long ago replaced by his need to build “Donald Trump, the hero”—a purely fictional persona.
We’ve suspected there’s something more—that he’s not all there—and we waited—futilely, it turned out—for the constitutional checks and balances to kick in. It stopped being funny when, as president, he used his formidable powers to attack and destroy at will. He counted on his popularity to keep the madness going and when it worked for him, he had no reason to stop.
Under his watch real people, including refugee families held at the border and often separated from their children, suffered in ways so horrific we wanted not to believe it.
Under his watch the economic and military experts, the scientists, the teachers—the country’s caretakers—were labeled inept and rendered useless.
Under his watch our infrastructure and our safety nets all but disappeared.
Under his watch thousands of brown-skinned hurricane victims were left to suffer and die.
Under his reckless, dishonest watch the COVID pandemic grew worse than any of us could have imagined and hundreds of thousands of Americans died horrible, needless deaths.
Under his watch laws were meant for everyone else. Never for him.
Whenever it became clear that we were in deep trouble and much of it was because of one Donald J. Trump, he learned he could get out of it by going for the giggle. How bad could he be if he could clown around and make people laugh?
So when he said he wanted to be president forever, or thought we should buy Greenland, or threatened revenge on people who wouldn’t go along, he anticipated the deliciously satisfying fuss. Whatever he had to do or say was worth it for the attention it brought.
When Trump lost the 2020 election, it wasn’t possible to him that he could lose the power and popularity he treasured. If he had to pretend he’d won by a landslide, he could do that. If he had to threaten and cajole to get 11000 Georgia votes, even after he’d pretended to win by a landslide, well, who wouldn’t? If he had to find people who would rig the election results, how hard could that be? And if, at the last minute, he could forge an insurrection in order to keep those final votes for Biden from being certified, it’s absolutely what had to be done.
But it’s 2023 and Donald Trump is in trouble. Real trouble. The courts he thought he’d cemented in place and would never go against him turned out to have far less power than he’d hoped. From tax evasion to sexual assault to bribery to obstruction, it looks like the seemingly impenetrable walls around him were really houses of cards.
One good wind…
It had to happen. Trump’s offenses in the past six years read like the rap sheet of a hardened criminal. The fact that he was once president of the United States is meaningless now that he’s an ordinary civilian. This is what he’s been dreading most—that the protection of the presidency would no longer be his. His deluded mind told him the crowds of supporters he’d so obsessively built up—MAGA, the Proud Boys, Qanon—would fight for him and keep him in power forever.
It’s not going to happen. It’ll never happen. History will not be kind to him. The stage lights will dim, the crowds will disappear, and he’ll go back to being that two-bit con man nobody liked, that loser to end all losers, that clown who was a laughingstock.
It’s those last laughs that are finally going to get him.
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