It’s not easy being president, especially in this era of mass shootings. The commander-in-chief must also be the consoler-in-chief. It’s important to exude maturity, to strike the right tone, to combine firm resolve with rhetorical restraint.
Only one presidential candidate managed to do this yesterday. The other candidate, predictably, flunked the fitness test.
Hillary Clinton started the day with a tweet that expressed horror about the shootings in Orlando. A few hours later, she posted a lengthy statement on Facebook. Key excerpts:
This was an act of terrorism….We have to redouble our efforts to defend our country (from) these threats here and abroad. That means defeat international terrorist networks working with allies and partners to engage the weherever they are…as well as strengthen our domestic defense….To all the LGBT people: know that you have millions of allies all over the country. I’m one of them. We will continue to fight for the right to live freely, openly and without fear. Hatred has no place in the United States. Finally, we must ensure that the weapons that were used last night never fall into the hands of terrorists and other violent criminals…the weapons of war have no place on our streets.
As for Donald Trump – and I know this will shock you – he spent much of Sunday talking about himself.
After a quick tweet that mentioned a “really bad shooting in Orlando,” he followed up by insisting that he has never made fun of disabled people. Say what? That was a weird thing to bring up, at a time of mounting tragedy, but we’re dealing here with a narcissistic manchild. He’s upset about a new Clinton campaign ad that shows him mocking the physicality of a disabled journalist (you’ve probably seen the infamous video); he insisted yesterday that he had merely imitated the reporter’s “groveling.” In Trump’s tweeted words, “I would never mock disabled. Shame!”
Is there no Trump adviser who could’ve spoken truth to power? As in, “Hey boss, the bodies are piling up in Orlando. This is not the proper time to talk about that disabled reporter. This is not the proper time to lie shamelessly about your shamelessness. This is not the time to talk about yourself.”
But there is no such adviser. Which probably explains what happened next. After posting a noontime tweet about “praying for the victims,” he followed up with this paean to himself:
Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical terrorism. I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!
A smart adviser would’ve said, “Donald, it’s a really bad idea to make this all about you. Fifty people are dead. Don’t ask for congratulations.” But alas, there was no such advice. Instead, we were all expected to bow at the feet of the deadbeat.
(And I use the word deadbeat for a reason. Trump was perversely lucky yesterday that the Orlando terrorist act deflected everyone’s attention from the devastating Sunday story about his disgraceful dealings in Atlantic City. His investors lost more than $1.5 billion even as he enriched himself. And this quote, from Steven Perskie, the state’s early ’90s casino regulator, says it all: “He put a number of local contractors and suppliers out of business when he didn’t pay them.”)
Anyway, yesterday, the deadbeat sustained his drumbeat. “I said this was going to happen,” he crowed in an afternoon statement. (A lot of people have said this was going to happen; when any hate-fueled idiot can walk into a store and buy an AR-15 weapon of war, then yeah, this was going to happen.) Then, in mid-afternoon, he tweeted: “I called it.” Someone needs to tell Trump that in times of national tragedy, it’s a “we” moment for the country, not a “me” moment for the leader.
Also, a president is supposed to calm people, not inflame them. A president is supposed to share verified information, not rumors. At one point yesterday, Trump tweeted that the Orlando shooter yelled “Allah hu Akbar” during the attack – but that has not been confirmed by law enforcement officials. Trump simply copy-pasted that, with a few tweaks, from the Twitter account of a guy who used to work for Breitbart, the right-wing “news” site.
And in that same tweet, Trump mentioned that a “2nd man” had been arrested with guns near the L.A. gay pride parade – thus intimating that L.A. arrestee was a radical Islamist as well. Turned out it was a gay-hating white guy from Indiana, a fact that Trump somehow never acknowledged.
But this is what happens when a supposedly major political party hands the reins to a casino huckster. The bright side is that most Americans already recognize Trump for what he is – a guy who can’t be trusted to handle a crisis. According to a new Fox News poll, 71 percent say that Clinton has the knowledge to serve effectively; 38 percent say that about Trump. More specifically, 60 percent say that Clinton has the requisite temperament to be president; 33 percent say that about Trump.
I doubt he did anything yesterday to boost his numbers. (Or today, either. This morning, he phoned into the Fox News cocoon to announce that “I’ve been right about a lot of things….I was right about many many things.”) Tim Miller, a former Jeb Bush aide, put it perfectly: “Someone who is so desperate for validation that they need to congratulate themselves after a terrorist attack has psychological issues they need to resolve.” After November, Trump can do that work on his own time.