Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star has the unenviable task of tracking President Trump's lies. Last week he had the second-most-dishonest week since becoming president, with 129 false claims, almost beating his record of 133 set in August. Dale's weekly tallies show that Trump's lying has escalated rapidly since June of this year, which raises questions about what may be precipitating it. It's possible that he's just found that there is no price to be paid for his lies so he's just letting his freak flag fly. It's also possible that the stress is getting to him and he just can't stop. This week's events certainly lend some evidence to the argument that his agitation is growing.
We started off with the truly unnecessary spectacle of newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a White House ceremony thanking Republican supporters by name while promising to be a fair, impartial judge. Trump then took a big handful of salt and rubbed it in the nation's wounds, telling the most unpopular new justice in history:
On behalf of our nation I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure. ... You sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent."
Needless to say, Kavanaugh was not "proven innocent." Sadly, that may have been the most normal thing to happen all week. On Tuesday morning, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley abruptly resigned, reportedly to the total surprise of the White House. (Trump said he'd known about it for six months, but nobody believed him because he lies a lot.) They held a little lovefest in the White House where Haley promised not to primary the president in 2020 and then bizarrely gave tribute to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, calling the latter a "hidden genius" and the former a "great friend."
Trump's manic rally schedule continued, with two events this week featuring the president imitating Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a confused old lady, reminiscent of his odious impression of reporter Serge Kovaleski during the campaign. His crowd loved it of course, and at the second rally broke out into a rousing "Lock her up" chant, much to the president's delight. The focus in both gatherings showed a slight shift away from Trump bragging incessantly about his personal greatness toward a sharp attack on the Democrats:
As Peter Baker of the New York Times put it:
From the pot-and-kettle department of politics, the president is trying to turn the tables on his opponents this fall. A master of divide-and-conquer campaigning who gives critics belittling nicknames, calls his foes “evil people” and has encouraged supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters, Mr. Trump hopes to convince the public that his opponents are the ones who are “totally unhinged.”
This strategy is not his alone. All the Republicans are repeating the words "angry mob" like a bunch of parrots, obviously trying to psych out the Democrats and get them to distance themselves from their energized base and suppress their own vote. But there's a febrile quality to Trump's approach that's manifested itself in other ways this week.
New York Magazine's Olivia Nuzzi had a very odd experience at the White House this week, in which the president unexpectedly pulled her in for a one-on-one chat. She provided the transcript of their conversation, which consisted of Trump doing his usual incoherent sales pitch. He also seemed to have set up a phony tableau involving Chief of Staff John Kelly, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Deputy Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, all of whom wandered ing in to try to convince her that Ayers was not being groomed to take Kelly's place. At the end of the interview, Ayers and Kelly hugged one another, proclaiming themselves to be best friends. It could not be weirder.
Meanwhile, the horrifying probability that Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi Arabian hit squad doesn't seem to bother the president all that much. At first he said he really didn't know any details but on Thursday unconvincingly asserted that he doesn't "like it at all" and mentioned twice that Khashoggi isn't an American citizen, clearly vexed that he has to worry about such a ridiculous thing. He bridled at the suggestion that the U.S. might impose arms sanctions on Saudi Arabia, saying he doesn't like "stopping massive amounts of money that's being poured into our country," clearly signaling that he won't lift a finger.
The man who almost certainly ordered the attack, Jared Kushner's good bud Prince Mohammed bin Salman, probably never doubted that. After all, Trump famously defended Vladimir Putin's assassinations of journalists during the campaign, telling Joe Scarborough:
I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know, there's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that's the way it is.
You can't blame Trump's pals for thinking he wouldn't care if they killed a critical journalist or two.
As all this was going on, what is now being called the third-strongest hurricane ever to hit the United States slammed into the Florida Panhandle, leaving whole towns in a pile of rubble in its wake. The president held one photo op on Wednesday morning and then took off for a rally in Pennsylvania, claiming that he didn't want to disappoint all the people who had been waiting for days to get in. (There were no people waiting for days.)
The split screen of a grinning president and his ecstatic followers holding signs and cheering on one side, with 150-mile-an-hour winds tearing through Florida towns on the other, was surreal. But it wasn't nearly as surreal as the split screen the next day when we saw miles of the devastation in the daylight juxtaposed with President Trump in the Oval Office sitting across the Resolute Desk from Kanye West as West held court wearing his MAGA hat and rambling incoherently on a number of topics. A sample:
There have been many bizarre moments since Trump took office but that one will go into the pantheon.
As I surveyed this week in Trumpland I wondered why Trump seems more disordered and frantic than usual. The midterms are almost upon us, so maybe that has him spooked. The pressure coming from various investigations and betrayals could be taking its toll. But then I read something that explains why he's more nervous than usual. A Politico headline blared the bad news: "Trump, no longer ratings gold, loses his prime-time spot on Fox News."
They aren't showing Trump's rallies in full anymore. He actually has to call in to Fox News to get on the air, which he did several times this week. Apparently, even his most fervent followers are finally getting tired of his shtick. Somehow, I don't think having Kanye West hug him in the Oval Office will help with that.