Living in an alternative world: Donald Trump needs to move on from election night and govern

In his mind, in his own perception, Trump might still be stuck in time, in the early hours of November 9, when he took the stage to give his victory speech, flanked by his family, aides and campaign staff.

Donald Trump Presidency Updated: Feb 19, 2017 01:40 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Trump Presidency,Electoral College
In this Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington.(AP Photo)

It was 75 minutes of riveting live telecast of a news briefing by the world’s most powerful man as he peddled half-truths and untruths, accused media of bias — at times simply because of the colour of the reporter’s skin or his Yarmulke (or Kippah, a headgear worn by Jewish men), bragged about his election, attacked his erstwhile rival and claimed his administration was whirring like a “fine-tuned machine” contrary to all available evidence.

So, what’s wrong with that? President Donald Trump continues to live an alternative world, that’s what is wrong. And it’s scarily wrong because he continues to believe his victory, against a flawed Democratic candidate who ran a flawed campaign, ordained on him the right to believe what he wants to, irrespective, and often in complete denial, of the truth. That exchange with a reporter who challenged the president’s utterly false boast and one that he has not hesitated to repeat even to visiting world leaders, about his electoral college victory was most illuminating.

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The president was caught lying by a reporter, who told him to his face why should American people — and the world, he should have added — believe him when he can’t get one simple number right. With the world — or at least the part of the world awake at that time, and interested — watching, the US president, often called the leader of the free world, just shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information. I was given -- I actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?’

That he has to pinch himself every morning to tell himself he did indeed win the election and that he is indeed the president now, is his problem, but his sense of disbelief — some say that deep down he is troubled that a large number of Americans question his legitimacy as president — must be an embarrassment internally, to his own aides. Trump asked Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their joint news briefing if he knew of his victory and how he beat the odds — “We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right?” At a joint briefing with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Trump was uncharacteristically modest, but there it was: “I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large electoral college vote.” He spared his other foreign guest, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, the details at their joint presser, but the two spent a weekend together in Florida, and Trump might have sprung it on him while playing golf or over dinner.

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Even conservatives, including those who stood by Trump no matter how big the storm he sent in their direction, are, to put it mildly, puzzled. “It’s amazing how hung up he is on the reporters not giving him credit for his electoral victory,” said Christopher Bedford, editor in chief of right-leaning The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But I guess it goes to his thinking they’re treating him like he’s illegitimate.”

In his mind, in his own perception, Trump might still be stuck in time, in the early hours of November 9, when he took the stage to give his victory speech, flanked by his family, aides and campaign staff. But the president probably needs to break that spell, no matter how heady that sensation may still be, so he can move ahead, and govern, as his voters would expect him to. The “fine-tuned machine” is anything but. He might be signing and issuing executive orders every day, which he indeed has by the way, but why is it that instead of talking about them, he spent 75 minutes ranting about his sacked NSA Michael Flynn, Russia contacts of his erstwhile campaign aides, surge in anti-Semitism, fake news, and, attacking news media, identifying outlets he doesn’t like? He wants to talk to members of the Black Congressional Caucus but he asked a Black reporter who had asked about it to set up the meeting. Seriously? The White House couldn’t get one? Did anyone think of it?

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First Published: Feb 18, 2017 21:20 IST