At the National Prayer Breakfast, he recommended prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a way to remind everyone — yet again — that his own ratings on “The Apprentice” were much higher.
President Donald Trump has a tense relationship, to say the least, with African Americans. He earned it. He built his political base in part by questioning the legitimacy of the first black president and demanding to see his birth certificate. He used racism for traction.
So what was his demeanor on Wednesday, when he marked Black History Month by sitting down with a handful of black leaders (supporters) in the Roosevelt Room? Did he ramp up the courtesy? Tamp down the self-congratulation? Go out of his way to emphasize that he’d be a president for all and that he fully appreciated the struggles and hardships of black Americans over time?
Not so much.
But he did talk about his struggles. His hardships. He couldn’t mention Martin Luther King Jr. without flashing on the King bust in the Oval Office, noting that there had been an erroneous report of its removal and lamenting what he sees as his terrible victimization by biased journalists and “fake news.”
King’s martyrdom became Trump’s martyrdom. Black History Month turned into Trump Appreciation Day.
Me, me, me, me, me.
There’s no topic that Trump can’t bring back around to himself, no cause as compelling as his own. And while I and many others have examined his outsize egomania before, its migration into his administration can’t be noted too often or overstated.
This isn’t just some random brush stroke in his portrait. It’s his primary color. It’s everything. It drives policy. It warps diplomacy. And it badly hobbles his leadership, because you can’t inspire others if nearly all of your energy goes so transparently and unabashedly into inflating yourself. At the least you have to do a pantomime of altruism and self-effacement. Trump seldom even tries.
Consider last week’s telephone call with the prime minister of Australia. The news accounts of this focused on Trump’s gratuitous combativeness with the leader of one of our closest allies, but I was equally riveted by another detail: The president spent a portion of the call reliving and reveling in his Electoral College victory.
The hyperbole trickles down and is taken up by Sean Spicer and, of course, by Kellyanne Conway. It is at this point that we should pause and bow our heads in remembrance of the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre.
Trump’s analysis of people and situations hinges on whether they exalt him. A news organization that challenges him is inevitably “failing.” A politician who pushes back at him is invariably a loser.
All in all it was some last week for President Me. At the National Prayer Breakfast, he recommended prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a way to remind everyone — yet again — that his own ratings on “The Apprentice” were much higher.
Still, Trump’s performance with black supporters in the Roosevelt Room was his masterpiece of me-ism. He slipped in a thank you to Fox News because it “treated me very nice.” He shared his belief — no, his fantasy — that black voters so liked his campaign message that they voted for him in unexpectedly high numbers. (He got 8 percent of the black vote.)
“In the entirety of his opening remarks,” wrote Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, “Trump said absolutely nothing that didn’t tie directly back to him in some way, shape or form. His election results. His views on the media. His election results again.”
The meeting, Cillizza added, was fresh proof of “how different this president and presidency is from every one that has come before it.” Trump probably managed to divine a compliment in that statement.