The ripple effects of Drowsy Don beyond the courtroom: The Trump trial is making everything weirder

The weird effects of Drowsy Don will be felt for years

By Brian Karem


Published April 18, 2024 9:05AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on November 06, 2023 in New York City. (Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on November 06, 2023 in New York City. (Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Hunter S. Thompson

In my mind, I was traveling through the hot, dry landscape of Nevada and headed toward the mecca of debauchery and decadence: Las Vegas. The Trump Tower shimmered in the distance like a mean-spirited heathen God of diseased greed; rapturous and belching out the capitalistic indulgence of America as if in the throes of passion.

I woke from my nap to see the beady little eyes of that orange-toned man on television in his ubiquitous white shirt, red tie and dark blue suit proclaiming his victimhood as his decades-long fleecing of America now has him cornered in a stuffy Manhattan courtroom while prospective jurors eye him like a caged orangutan that likes to fling its own feces at the crowd.

After one day in court, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman told us, Trump was essentially sleeping in the courtroom. As much as he wants to call Biden “Sleepy Joe,” he will forever be known as “Drowsy Don.” For the next month, Trump will sit like every other accused criminal in a court of law awaiting justice. Except he is making history as the first former president to be prosecuted for a felony.

Those prospective jurors not chosen to judge Trump spoke with reporters and told us of their interest in seeing a man who provokes visceral reactions, both good and bad, from so many people. Trump bathes in the chaos, drowns others with his bombast and, in a courtroom where he apparently cannot control his own actions, let alone anyone else’s, he is now seen stripped of pretense and floundering — when he’s not sleeping.

Trump remains larger than life to many, and the ripple effects of his extended stay on the public stage are still being felt and will continue long after he either expires of natural causes inside prison or while hugging his golden toilet bowl at Mar-a-Lago.

Joe Biden was elected nearly four years ago by telling us he was a bridge to the future — a better future without Trump. It was appealing to a majority of voters who needed to flush Trump from their system. Many thought Biden was a short-term fix until younger, more viable leadership took over. But now Biden is determined to stay, Trump wants back in and the nation has to watch a sequel some wags have called “Grumpier Old Men.”

That’s another example of the Trump ripple effect. He won’t go away and Biden is determined to keep him from another term, convinced that he remains the country’s best chance to hold the line between democracy and whatever Trump and his putrid, vampiric acolytes have in mind for the country. Biden is aided in this effort by a variety of well-known people, not limited to every living former president, many members of the Trump team from his first term and everyone with any common sense who continues to tell us how bad for democracy, business and the existence of mankind Trump is for the world.

That’s another ripple.

But it’s not always that dire.  

On Monday, I heard two things I’d never heard in the White House briefing room during my last 40 years covering the White House. I heard the word “shwacking” used and a reference to “Where’s Waldo.” I have Admiral John Kirby, the feisty National Security Council spokesperson, to thank for both of those references. Kirby was trying to deal with the insane claims, reportedly from the Iranian government, that its recent drone and missile strikes on Israel failed “on purpose.” As silly as that all sounds, all of it is a ripple in space-time that is indirectly tied to the actions of Drowsy Don.

Kirby’s sense of humor is a welcome respite to mitigate the seriousness of the problems in the world we face, directly and indirectly, because of the four years Trump soiled the White House. The impeachment of Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas is a byproduct of pro-Trump MAGA members. It was dumped on the Senate this week, and they quickly dispensed with the entire matter Wednesday. House Speaker Mike Johnson, himself a Trump protégé, is battling the threat of his own ouster at the hands of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another Trump sycophant who’s 40 shades of MAGA worse than other GOP members. 

The world is pegging a solid 10 on the weirdness scale.

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With Trump on trial in Manhattan and already floundering, one has to ask how he remains viable as a candidate. Here’s one way: The MAGA team has dug out a sub-basement to lower the bar, and still the Democrats are stumbling to get over it. At least Biden is. The president came out this week and made statements criticizing Trump for his COVID policies — but, curiously enough, avoided talking about Trump on trial.

Biden's administration, meanwhile, can’t seem to stop stumbling over itself. It's infamous for its dreadful staging of public events on the road and at the White House. The administration recently left the reporting pool out of an event where Biden essentially spoke to an empty room because of a staff mistake. A recent bilateral press conference in the Rose Garden was delayed because of technical problems. In Baltimore, Biden’s staged appearance to talk about the Key Bridge collapse was roundly criticized for looking more like a mayoral visit than a presidential visit. Reporters on the campaign trail complain often about the lack of professionalism among the advance staff. Reporters at the White House routinely complain about Biden’s staff ignoring them, ghosting them or trying to intimidate them into silence, while seemingly unable to handle even the simplest requests.

Monday, a Fox News reporter asked in the press briefing about inflation and the rising cost of gas. I followed with what should have been a softball. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, among others, has called inflation “greedflation” and noted that there is no economic reason for increased inflation. It’s simply price gouging by the very rich — the same people Biden has routinely said need to pay their “fair share of taxes.”

I asked the White House if the president blamed those he asked to pay their fair share for rising prices. Given the opportunity to speak directly to that issue, the administration merely explained that Republicans and Democrats “see things differently.” The country is blaming Biden for inflation and his staff can offer no response other than repeating that the job market remains strong.

They can’t hit the layups.

Weirder still was a follow-up question about Julian Assange. The president himself recently hinted that there may be a way to settle the long-running Assange case through a plea deal. It would behoove Biden to avoid a public trial or extradition of the controversial WikiLeaks publisher during an election year. But instead of answering my question on Monday, the press office just referred me to the Department of Justice — which, by the way, had already refused to answer a question about Assange and referred me back to the White House.

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That’s just weird, and counterproductive. But that’s how things operate in D.C. these days, and have been operating since the last vestige of normalcy departed, at the same time Barack Obama's final press secretary, Josh Earnest, left the building in 2017. Trump distorted everything. It will take someone younger, more vibrant and with better ideas to pave a new highway, rather than patch the potholes of weirdness in our government. 

So don’t expect to leave the land of the weird any time soon. We have yet to see either major political party conduct their conventions to nominate a presidential candidate, and we’re all assuming it’s definitely going to be Biden versus Trump, part deux. With Trump’s rhetoric where it’s always been — divisive and angry — and with the Biden administration nearly incompetent at promoting its agenda, people are already tired and burned out. 

How much weirder will it get before summer? Trump can’t outrun his past. It’s catching up to him daily in that Manhattan courtroom, where he remains both a cause and a symptom of the weird times in which we live. His arrival in politics was like a large asteroid hitting the ocean with a ripple effect of destruction and disharmony that has echoed across the landscape, engulfing the Supreme Court, Congress and the current presidency. Its stench of decay and greed has had far-reaching effects on international markets, diplomacy and worldwide democracy. The rise of the far right is now seen across the globe.

The weirdness is so pervasive in some cases that it has become monotonous. Nothing Trump does surprises anyone anymore. His followers just scream that he's the victim, with increasingly forced outrage. His opponents just say, “Really? Again? Give me a break.” You can only be shocked so many times by Donald Trump’s narcissism before you walk away from it with a sigh. It just takes up too much energy. The prospective jurors in Manhattan are drawn to watch the man up close, much as you’d watch the orangutan in the zoo — but after a while you'd get bored and walk away, leaving the animal to the zookeepers who must care for him.

The weirdness lingers. The viewers don’t. By this fall, we may well have moved beyond both Trump and Biden. But don’t count on it. We have to buckle up. It’s likely to become weirder, sooner rather than later, and there are still endless ways in which this could play out — most of them bad, but some of them good.

It’s so weird that an acid overdose while riding in a convertible during a July heat wave in the desert outside Las Vegas seems like something to no longer fear nor loathe.

And for the love of God, can somebody get Drowsy Don a new suit?

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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