With Meghna Chakrabarti
Jan. 20, 2019 marks the second anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. By almost any measure, his has been a norm-breaking presidency. We’ll look at defining moments thus far, and how they have changed the country.
The Atlantic’s series “Unthinkable” chronicles “50 moments that define an improbable presidency.”
Yara Bayoumy, national security editor at The Atlantic. (@yarabayoumy)
McKay Coppins, staff writer for The Atlantic. (@mckaycoppins)
From the Reading List
The Atlantic: “Covfefe: Six Hours and Three Minutes of Internet Chaos” — “It is possible to view the history of presidential politics in McLuhanian terms, via the changing technologies that leaders have used to communicate. William Jennings Bryan stood at the edge of a train car and bellowed orations to his devoted followers as he traveled across the country. Franklin D. Roosevelt used the intimacy of radio and his flair for the dramatic to transmit ‘real news,’ as he once put it, directly to the people. And Donald Trump watches TV while thumbing out tweets to the “’haters’ and ‘losers.’
“Trump has tweeted 6,152 times since he was inaugurated, each message a fragment of presidential id. His timeline, which swerves predictably from seething to gloating, is not just an end run around the press but a splintered stream of consciousness unmatched in presidential history, an unfiltered look at the forces that animate a president obsessed with how he is viewed by others.
“His tweets are messy, reactive, often petty, and occasionally cruel. The world has grown accustomed to this aspect of the Trump presidency, and the regularity with which he self-publishes flapdoodle conspiracies, casual sexism, schoolyard insults, tin-can patriotism, and outright lies. When a steady stream of exclamation points is not enough, the president opts for all caps instead, as when he tweeted at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last summer: ‘NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.’ ”
The Atlantic: “Trump mocks Christine Blasey Ford to a cheering crowd” — “President Donald Trump took the stage in Southaven, Mississippi, for a campaign rally on October 2, 2018, at a fraught moment in American politics. Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, had been accused of committing sexual assault as a teenager, and his nomination now appeared to be in peril. The confirmation battle had consumed the country, the national temperature was running hot—and everyone was waiting to hear what the president would say.
“Republicans on Capitol Hill had been trying to tread lightly with Kavanaugh’s most prominent accuser, Christine Blasey Ford—inviting her to testify in the Senate and mostly refraining from personal attacks on her character. Trump had grudgingly gone along with this strategy of restraint. But gazing out at a roaring crowd of red-capped superfans that October evening, he just couldn’t help himself.
“His voice dripping with contempt, Trump began ridiculing Ford’s memory of the alleged assault—even going so far as to imitate her testimony: ‘How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.’
“The crowd erupted in delight.”
The Atlantic: “A name-calling feud ends with the secretary of state’s ouster by tweet” — “The tweet came shortly after Rex Tillerson returned from his debut trip to Africa, on March 13, 2018: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” President Donald Trump wrote. ‘He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!’
“Tillerson was the first Cabinet official ever to be fired on social media; Trump only got around to calling him some three hours later. The sequence appeared to be a calculated snub: Trump had come to dislike Tillerson, who’d called him a ‘moron.’ John Kelly, then the president’s chief of staff, later made a point of noting that Tillerson had been on the toilet when Kelly had phoned him in advance of Trump’s tweet to tell him that his dismissal was likely imminent.
“No modern president has treated diplomacy, its institutions, and the people who run them with less care than Trump.”