Last week, I learned a pretty great way to make the headlines. It’s sort of a two-step process. First, you become the president of the United States. Next, as you near your 100th day in office, you refer to your job ― out loud, to a room of reporters ― like so: “I thought it would be easier.” And just like that, you’re going to be all anyone wants to talk about.
President Donald Trump actually did this, and the result is a Reuters report in which the president waxes nostalgically about how great his old life was, and how unexpectedly hard his new one has become.
Oddly, he doesn’t seem to understand that it was inevitably going to be this way, because this is presidency of the United States we are talking about. Was he aware that one of the nicknames for “president of the United States” is “leader of the free world?” Ever seen the free world? Complicated place, it turns out. Kind of a 24-7 situation, with a lot of moving parts and billions of people counting on someone to keep it spinning. Not exactly a walk in the park.
I’ve been waiting for this ― the moment when Trump finally understands the full ramifications of the situation he’s in.
When was it going to occur to him that the job of “president” mainly entails taking a lot of stick, dealing with the demands of a world full of people, seeing your ambitious ideas get watered down or ground up in our oft-sclerotic governing processes, and being first on the hook whenever anything, anywhere goes wrong? Oh, and you have to play a role in stitching the world back together whenever it breaks.
It’s not like “presidenting is hard” was a closely guarded secret. Nobody sprung this on him. Frankly, it had been perplexing to observe the past two years of this man’s life, wondering why none of his friends were willing to tell him, “Just so you know, it’s much easier to run a bunch of sham companies, sell your name to rubes, and host a reality-television show.”
By the way, I’d forgotten that he did have such a friend willing to dispense some hard truths for his sake. Over at Death And Taxes, Maggie Serota reminds us that Howard Stern tried to warn Trump not to “do this to yourself,” that he “only had about 10 good years left before he ‘starts to drool’ on himself,” and that those years would be better spent at “leisure.” Stern recounted his advice to Trump on a November edition of his radio show:
“Now, for the next four years of his life — and you don’t know how long you’re going to live — he’s got to sit there and deal with people’s fucking anger,” Stern said. “Can he give the people what he promised them? Can he really change the economy? Can he really change America? You know this is like a barge. And if things go wrong — not even because of his own fault — and the economy starts to falter, then you’re everybody’s fucking scumbag. Everyone’s like, ‘Fuck him.’”
So we look to Friday, April 28 ― his 99th day in office ― as the day Trump finally pivoted to being aware of the essential difficulty of being president of the United States.
Or, maybe not. You see, Trump has many times in the past seemingly experienced a moment of clarity. Remember when a 10-minute conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping led him to realize that working through the diplomatic difficulties with North Korea was “not so easy?” Or the time he admitted that health care was “complicated?” He has these revelations on a semi-regular basis. And he’ll publicly talk about them, in a very straightforward fashion.
But as Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall points out, Trump is not experiencing these occasional bursts of newfound understanding as information shoring up his knowledge gaps. Rather, he seems to fundamentally believe that he is constantly unearthing previously unknown truths about the presidency and the world.
Does Trump actually believe he’s ... teaching us ... something? Oh, man ― does he think these realizations are accomplishments? Here’s Marshall:
So far the Trump Presidency has been a sort of Mr Magoo performance art in which the comically ignorant Trump learns elemental or basic things that virtually everyone in the world of politics or government already knew – things that the majority of adults probably know. Health Care: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” North Korea: “I felt pretty strongly that they had tremendous power. But it’s not what you think.” There are perhaps half a dozen examples equally stark.
In other words, President Trump is open about his discoveries and even eager to share them but universally projects his previous state of comical ignorance onto the general public or whomever he is talking to.
Consider the fact that in that same interview with Reuters, Trump brought three copies of the 2016 electoral map with him, and gave them to the reporters. “Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” he said, as he handed them out. Does he not know that the average reporter can lay hand to an electoral map quite easily? Electoral maps are literally one of the last things any reporter needs help obtaining.
I worry that Marshall is right, and that Trump actually believes he’s leading us all out of the darkness by the light of wisdom like, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”
This is especially bad news when you consider that Trump’s first 100 days have not been nearly that hard. The most adversity he’s faced came when the House Obamacare replacement bill got ground up in the House Republican caucus internecine melee. He overcame that hardship by essentially bailing on it. (Later, he tried to gin up a second effort in the hopes that he could cram a feather into his cap not labelled “Gorsuch” by the 100-days’ end.)
In other words, Trump has yet to face the kind of adversity that he can’t just walk away from and then return to casually when it’s convenient. Trump’s first 100 days, let’s face it, have been relatively free of real crisis ― save for the occasional self-made crisis like his not-ready-for-prime-time travel bans and the brief flirtation with a possible government shutdown. But at some point, there will be incidents and accidents that will be sterner tests of Trump’s mettle.
Consider, for example, something like the 2001 mid-air collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet over Hainan Island, or the 2014 Ebola outbreak. If you remember those events, they were pretty nervy times for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively. But now, memories of those times are encased in a kind of calm. It’s not because these presidents were perfect, or did everything right, by any means. But we got to a resolution, and it’s likely that a huge contributing factor is that neither Bush nor Obama ― love them or hate them! ― acted like the job was easy.
At some point, it’s likely that Trump will have to deal with a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a bombing, or the type of crisis I’d rather not invoke by writing it down. What’s going on in North Korea, I suppose, looms with that sort of potential. What happens to a president who couldn’t figure out how difficult the job was until he was three months into his term? Eventually, he’ll make his next pivot ― to panic.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.