Trump says his "authority is total" — while he blames everyone else for his failures

In Trump's evil, incoherent theory of government, he has all the power — but none of the responsibility

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 14, 2020 1:05PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump is melting down. Well, more than usual, anyway. Berating America in a tone that evokes Eric Cartman of "South Park," Trump lashed out on Monday at anyone who would dare question his A-THOR-ATE-I. Monday's propaganda session disguised as a "coronavirus briefing" was wilder than usual, with Trump going well beyond his already megalomaniacal daily  rants, subjecting the viewers at home and the beleaguered White House reporters to a mendacious propaganda video that attempted to spin his wild failures into some story of great success. And throughout this meltdown, Trump was asserting his godlike powers in the same tone used to lecture trophy wives about how they need to show a little more gratitude to the man whose ill-gotten gains keep them flush with golden toilets.

"When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the way it's got to be," Trump declared to the reporters who risk their health to show up daily to bear witness to a character who makes Emperor Palpatine's on-screen villainy seem subtle and underplayed. 

When CNN's Kaitlan Collins challenged him by pointing out, correctly, that the president's authority is not absolute, he snapped at her, "Enough!"

Trump's petulance had an immediate cause, which is yet another — and quite excellent — report on how thoroughly he failed on the coronavirus response, this time in the form of a New York Times weekend feature. This article lays out how, for months, administration officials tried desperately to get Trump to take coronavirus seriously, but he continued to insist he could bullshit his way through this. Even the one action Trump authorized, a travel ban from China, was wasted as he aggressively fought any effort to use the time bought by the ban to prepare a medical response or institute measures to slow the viral spread. 

Meanwhile, Trump is also being heavily lobbied by right-wing pundits and conservative groups who want to "reopen" the economy, seemingly gripped by the naive faith that it's like a light switch you can turn on. But the president's faith in a source tends to be inversely proportional to that source's legitimacy or understanding of a topic, and so he's chomping at the bit to do what these fools are telling him to do.

All this went into the blender of his goldfish brain and came out as a bunch of pompous declarations that he's the king and we all have to do what he says. It started on Twitter, with Trump declaring that "some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states" and, switching to the faux-regal language he loves, saying, "Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect" and that it "is the decision of the President".

He kept at it during the daily propaganda dump coronavirus briefing, repeatedly asserting that his authority is "total" and that governors "can't do anything without the approval of the President of the United States."

This is flatly false, as evidenced by the way that many state governors locked down, even as Trump made it clear he didn't want them to, and even as some of the Trumpier governors went along by refusing lockdowns, even as that led to the virus spreading. Just in case, media outlets have published helpful explainers that make clear that Trump is just making up his imperial powers. 

But this isn't just about Trump lying, which comes to the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief more naturally even than camera-hogging. That particular lie — that he holds full power over everyone and everything — cuts directly against another one that Trump has been hiding behind throughout this coronavirus crisis and the economic fallout: That all this is someone else's fault. 

From the moment Trump realized he couldn't just bullshit people into believing the coronavirus was a hoax, he has focused his energies almost entirely on trying to find someone else to pin the blame on, since he holds entirely blameless, as he does for all the other times he's failed as a leader, a businessman, a husband and father, and a human being. While other presidents might put at least some effort into helping Americans get through this tragedy — try to imagine the tone Barack Obama would have struck — Trump's singular focus is on arguing that this is not his fault. 

"I don't take responsibility at all," Trump said during a Rose Garden press conference on March 13, exactly one month before his claims to have "total" authority.

Ever since then, it's been a daily exercise for Trump and his supporters to find someone else to blame for the failures Trump somehow did not anticipate or prevent with his "total" authority. 

Trump blames state governors, trying to argue that their lack of equipment is their fault, even as it becomes ever more clear that it's the fault of the Trump administration, which has deliberately withheld supplies and forced states into bidding wars over medical equipment.

Trump has blamed China for fooling him about the seriousness of the situation, even though he was warned repeatedly by U.S. intelligence agencies, going back to November, that the Chinese wasn't being truthful about this epidemic. That he chose to believe Xi Jinping over his own intelligence officials is Trump's fault. 

Trump blames the media, even though it began reporting on the seriousness of the situation long before he was willing to admit things were bad. Trump has even started to explore blaming public health officials, such as infectious disease czar Dr. Anthony Fauci, even though those are the people who have driven policies that have actually slowed the spread of the disease, and had to fight Trump's efforts to ignore the problem every step of the way. 

This is what Trump clearly wants people to believe: That he has total authority, but absolutely zero responsibility. And while Trump's cultists, ready as always to walk off a cliff for their orange hero, will play along with this formulation, no one else, especially in the media, should be fooled. 

The reality is straightforward: Trump, by refusing to take this seriously until it was too late — and also by continuing to undermine efforts to test and treat people — caused this disaster. Many of the people he's now trying to blame, such as governors, journalists and public health officials, are doing the work to clean up the mess he made, though they can only do so much.

And the thanks these people get for trying to save the nation, which could well have the unwelcome but unavoidable consequence of rescuing Trump's chances at re-election, is to hear Trump bellow at them about how he's the king of everything and they need to do more bowing and scraping. (See this latest screech at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for evidence.) But all those folks will keep on doing their job, even though that might aid the orange monstrosity who is making their lives miserable, because ultimately helping the public is their job. Taking responsibility and getting the job done is what real leaders do, and that's something Donald Trump will go to his grave without understanding. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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