The Slatest

The President Is Still in the Bunker

Trump is tweeting from a hermetically sealed reality.

A crane lowers a heavy white barrier into place on a street facing the White House.
The White House on Wednesday, view obstructed by a crane. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Nationwide protests over police brutality and racism … an active pandemic … the highest unemployment rate in 80 years … let’s check in on what the president of the country is doing about this stuff!

Needless to say, he’s just tweeting. (There were 12 posted messages between 10:15 p.m. Wednesday night and 2:30 p.m. Thursday, including one at 11:38 p.m. and one at 8:49 a.m. Rise and grind!) But what is he tweeting about, and what bearing do his tweets have on potential executive action? Let’s look at four from Thursday morning, which cover the topics the president is most concerned with at the moment, to find out.

1. Complaining That the Federal Reserve Is Too Pessimistic About the Economy

The Fed predicted on Wednesday that the U.S. economy will struggle for some time, which seems like a fair guess, given the aforementioned “worst unemployment since people were wearing barrels instead of clothes in black-and-white pictures” factor. But the central bank has already cut interest rates to zero and engaged in large-scale buying and lending, which means there is little more it can do to stimulate the economy. Congress and the executive branch, by contrast, could be working on an additional stimulus bill, but the Trump administration has stopped pursuing that possibility because of ideological and political concerns about spending. In essence, then, Trump’s tweet is just a complaint that the Fed (which is independent by design) is not cooperating with his reelection message about an imminent recovery. It has no relation to any possible constructive action.

2. Complaining That Confederate Statues Are Being Removed by Municipalities and Torn Down by Protesters

This message suggests that advocates of statue removal would like to prevent Americans from learning about and feeling ashamed about the Confederacy, which has been the actual opposite of their campaign in both intent and effect. Also, regardless of one’s opinions about the merits of taking the statues down, the matter is one that local governments, not the federal government, are responsible for. Again, this tweet has no discoverable nexus to a matter of executive branch activity. Administratively speaking, it is yelling at a television. (Update: While this post was being written Trump sent a tweet objecting to a proposal to rename U.S. military bases that are currently named after Confederate generals, which does at least bear on a federal subject.)

3. This One Is Hard to Summarize. Antifa in Seattle?

As always, it is astounding to see a message this opaque and syntactically clipped and imagine the median U.S. voter trying to figure out what it means. But here is an explanation, as far as one is possible: Protesters in Seattle have established a so-called autonomous zone in one of the city’s neighborhoods after police decided to vacate a precinct there in an effort to defuse tensions. Members of the community say they are taking it upon themselves to maintain order and safety, and while this is certainly an unorthodox arrangement, city officials are at this point choosing to allow the experiment to continue rather than moving police back in violently. Fox News gave the subject extensive, alarmist coverage on its Wednesday-night prime-time shows, which is likely why Trump has become attuned to it; in this and other tweets he’s hectored Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to move protesters out immediately, which, again, is not a strategy that the president of the U.S. would typically have a role in ordering. Biden’s name is tossed in because Trump is trying to persuade voters that his presidential campaign is controlled by radical anarchists.

4. Boasting About How Easy It Was to Subdue Protests in the District of Columbia

We’re going increasingly off the rails here, in terms of coherence. As written, the tweet could suggest that the National Guard and police “S.S.” (presumably the Secret Service, not the Nazi Schutzstaffel—but you never know!) have completely cleared protesters out of the Lafayette Park area near the White House. Since they have not actually done that—protests continue near the park—one might then guess Trump is referring to the instantly infamous June 1 tear-gas attack which cleared the area in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church on H Street NW. But a careful reconstruction in the Washington Post indicates that the violence during the incident was perpetrated primarily by federal parks police, while the Times has reported at least one guardsman in the area had no warning that it was going to take place. In sum it appears that the president had the intent of taunting protesters for being weak (!) and boasting about his control of the nation’s military, but, failing the existence of any evidence that would clearly demonstrate such command, he fudged some together.

Elsewhere on Thursday, in fact, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley apologized for having created the perception of military intervention in domestic affairs by appearing with Trump at St. John’s—which is, if we will allow the deployment of an expression that is otherwise overused in these times, truly an extraordinary rebuke, given that Milley reports to Trump and that news reports have said the military presence in and near the District of Columbia in recent weeks resulted from the commander in chief’s expressed wishes.

ABC, meanwhile, reports that “multiple” Trump aides have “opted to turn off notifications for ’@realDonaldTrump,’ the president’s personal Twitter account,” on the grounds that Trump’s Twitter activity is not germane to their work. This is, weirdly, justifiable: The president’s outbursts, while nearly always upsetting and demagogic, have in the past usually had some bearing on a discernible and plausible political goal. Now they are about implausibly portraying Joe Biden as being an anarchist, celebrating a crackdown so odious it embarrassed the administration’s own top general, and insisting that a self-evidently awful economy is actually perfectly poised, in the near term, to create mass prosperity.

There is a trope in movies and TV in which ill-fated characters, who don’t want to acknowledge the disappointing reality to which they have been consigned, drift into a dream world in which they are beloved and self-actualized. It always used to seem far-fetched!

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