The Slatest

This Nonsensical Sound Bite About Trump and a Sandbox Actually Explains a Lot About Why We’re All Screwed

Tom Barrack at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.
Tom Barrack at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal has an article Friday about Donald Trump’s long-standing grudge against Amazon, which stems from its founder Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post. The Post’s reporting is sometimes unflattering to Trump, and in that way resembles every newspaper’s coverage of every public figure, but because Trump can only process events through the lens of his ego, he interprets this to mean that he is involved in a bitter personal feud with Bezos, who probably doesn’t mind that the Post runs damaging stories about Donald Trump, but, given the vast extent of his other holdings and the way newspaper editorial decisions work, likely does not have any personal involvement in those stories or consider them particularly important to his business.

The WSJ piece includes the following comment about Bezos and Trump by Tom Barrack, a successful real-estate and distressed-debt investor who has worked with Trump in the past and has carved out a niche as one of the few public figures in the world who is willing to say positive things about the president despite not obviously being a deranged charlatan, political hack, or sleaze monster.

“The president’s view is, ‘You want to play with me in the sandbox, then you better put on your helmet, pack a lunch and bring your flashlight.’ ”

1. Ah, yes—the sandbox, a famously tough, no-joke place to meet, a dangerous venue where the weak are destroyed.

2. Why a helmet and a flashlight? Is this a sandbox or a hardscrabble coal mine?

3. Why are they having lunch?

Barrack’s sound bite is more than just a weird mixed metaphor about a mining picnic; it’s also the latest example of someone who should know better trying to put a positive spin on Trump’s tiny attention span, inability to understand complex topics, and tendency to engage in embarrassing personal feuds.

Like Barrack’s effort to reframe Trump’s one-sided obsession with the Washington Post as a high-stakes mano a mano between two tycoons, other excuses for the president often touch on his allegedly successful career as a hard-charging alpha businessman. Paul Ryan reportedly referred to Trump as “the ultimate closer” during the GOP’s efforts to pass Obamacare repeal legislation—an ostensibly flattering nickname that was actually a tacit acknowledgement that Trump didn’t understand the bill, wasn’t capable of negotiating changes to it that would win it more support, and could not be relied on for anything more than last-minute attempts to “close” its sale by browbeating legislators into voting for it on the basis of personal loyalty. (The bill, of course, ultimately did not pass Congress.) Ryan also excused Trump’s effort to interfere with former FBI Director James Comey’s Russia investigation as the work of someone who was “new to government” and didn’t understand the arcane “protocols” involved in having an independent federal law enforcement agency; similarly, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that when Trump asked then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for it was merely an instance of the president being conversational and “getting to know somebody.”* For her part, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley explained this January that Trump’s tweets about the size of his “nuclear button” (LOL) are strategically savvy reminders to Kim Jong-un about the “reality” of nuclear war.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about what would happen if all the people whose knowledge and hard work Trump relies on to make up for his own ignorance and mental sloth stopped pretending that POTUS is dumb like a fox and admitted, en masse, that he is just dumb.

Correction, April 6, 2018: This post originally misspelled Ronna McDaniel’s first name.