On Wednesday, for the first time since July 2016, Donald Trump finally participated in a 90-minute press conference. But what emerged shocked seasoned political reporters and much of Washington to its core.
Last July Trump was just another Republican candidate, now he’s President Elect of the United States. Political observers had expected to see the gravitas of office, but what they got was a circus.
Onstage a ranting authoritarian was flanked on one side by Trump wine, Trump water and Trump steaks (which on closer inspection were produced by companies owned by other people).
On the other side of him stood a mountain of untitled manila folders that he said contained proof of how he will separate himself from his worldwide business operations.
But staff stepped forward to stop the press from examining the contents of these mysterious folders, leading many to conclude that the sheets they contained were probably blank. It was all theatre they contended, not facts.
It emerged that Trump had even paid staffers to fill the room to applaud his statements and to jeer at his many enemies. Call it “fake endorsement” to combat “fake news.”
Trump of course knows that the press exists to call the mighty to account. They are the people’s voice in the corridors of power because in the United States we elect presidents, not monarchs.
But he clearly does not care about considerations like that because when political leaders try to silence the press or overlook fair questions from journalists like CNN’s Jim Acosta, then they are casually overlooking the concerns of the nation itself.
Asked whether anyone in his campaign had had contact with Moscow during his presidential run, Trump declined to answer saying instead that he had no loans or business deals with Russia.
But multiple investigations have shown that Trump has received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, particularly after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.
Furthermore, several of Trump’s senior advisors and even one cabinet pick have business ties to Russia and reportedly are friendly even with Vladimir Putin himself.
Morgan Lewis, the law firm representing President-elect Donald Trump at the conference, was named the “Russia Law Firm of the Year” last year. One of their members, Sheri Dillon, later took to the podium to address Trump’s many alleged conflicts of interest.
Nothing says “there’s really nothing to see here folks” like a lawyer being paid to read a prepared statement while the contractor stands there nodding his head.
Dillon explained that Trump will not be selling any assets to avoid conflict of interest charges, nor will he establish a blind trust. Both of these decisions leave him open to changes that he could profit from his presidency. We will never know for certain until he releases his tax returns, as every other presidential candidate has for decades.
Taking office with the lowest approval rating of any incoming president in history, Trump talks as if he has won a historic victory and mandate. That is troubling.
More troubling still is that this week the theme of his forthcoming presidency has emerged before it has even begun: ignore the press, listen to me, believe only what I tell you.
And that means we’re all in greater trouble than we ever imagined.