“I was with Mike Pompeo before,” President Donald Trump said at his first press conference in 587 days on Thursday. “We were dealing at a very high level with Japan. I was saying things that nobody in the room even understood. And I said them a long time ago—and I was right. He said, ‘That’s not the Twenty-Fifth Amendment that I’m looking at.’ I think I can say that from Mike.”
That bizarre anecdote about Trump baffling unnamed senior Japanese leaders occurred about six paragraphs deep into an answer to the question, “Are you planning to fire Rod Rosenstein?”
Like so much at the press conference, the answer was both a crazy detour away from the subject at hand—and a startling revelation of the president’s own anxious dialogues with himself. Again and again, the president told stories about unnamed third parties reassuring him—and unspecified theys plotting against him. Here he reassures himself about laughter at the United Nations.
And I was in front of a large group of highly professional people, most of whom are from either other countries or the United Nations, people that aren’t big into clapping, applauding, smiling. And I heard a little rustle as I said our country is now stronger than ever before—it’s true. I mean, it is true. And I heard a little rustle and I said it’s true.
And I heard smiles—and I said, Oh, I didn’t know that’d be like a—they weren’t laughing at me. They were laughing with me. We had fun. That was not laughing at me.
So the fake news said people laughed at President Trump. They didn’t laugh at me. People had a good time with me. We were doing it together. We had a good time. They respect what I’ve done. The United States is respected again.
Here he insists that farmers are not being hurt—or, anyway, do not object to being hurt—by his trade wars against China.
My farmers are—these are patriots, you know.
On a network that doesn’t like me very much, which is most of them, but a network that didn’t—doesn’t really treat me very good, they interviewed farmers, and they got hurt because, you know, all of a sudden, China stops buying. By the way, they’ve started buying again. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. And soybeans are going up, and things are going up. And we’ve had very little hurt, from what I’ve done.
In fact, the markets have gone up, and the farmers are going to do great. But ultimately—but they had farmers, and these guys are amazing. I love them, and they voted for me, and they love me. And they said, “We don’t care if we get hurt, he’s doing the right thing.”
So that’s a hug and a squeeze for the ego. But then—then come the malign, plotting, implacable theys:
They did the same thing with the Russia investigation. They tried to convince people that I had something to do with Russia. There was no collusion. Think of it. I’m in Wisconsin. I’m in Michigan. I say, gee, we’re not doing well. I won both those states. We’re not doing well. Ah, let me call the Russians to help. Does anybody really believe that? It’s a con job.
This was an answer to the question, “What about the message that’s being sent to the women who are watching?”
They will do anything, say anything, with no regard to logic or fairness.
In one case, they say, “He’s a fascist. He’s taking over the government. He’s the most powerful president ever. He’s a horrible human being. He wants to take over the entire government, and he’s going to do it. We can’t stop him.”
That didn’t work. The next week, he said, “He’s incompetent.” I said, “Well, wait a minute.” In one case, I’m taking over the world, and the other case, he’s incompetent. They tried that for a week, that didn’t work.
Who is this they? Sometimes it is unnamed political opponents.
They’re not in love with me. They’re not going to beat me in the election. They know that. They’re not going to beat me. The people that I’m looking at are total lightweights. I—I dream of running against those people. Maybe I’ll come up with somebody …
Question: But with your administration …
That’s not—they’re not going to beat me. I’m against what they want to do. I’m in favor of law enforcement. I’m in favor of safety and security and low taxes. I want low taxes. I want borders. We’re getting another $1.6 billion in borders. I want borders. We’ve spent $3.2 billion, and we’re getting another $1.6 billion. And then, eventually, we’re getting the whole thing, and we’ll complete the wall.
They don’t want that—they don’t want that. They don’t want the things that I have. Now I must say, I know many of the democrats. They’ll say things and then wink at me. And again, it’s the same old story. They’ll say things, they don’t mean it. It’s politics.
The reason they don’t want me is because they want to run the show. They want it. It’s power, it’s whatever you want to call it. But what they’ve done here is a disgrace, a total disgrace, and what they do—I know it’s sort of interesting.
Sometimes the they is “the people in this room,” the media who surround the president.
Before I got here, everybody in this room thought you were going to war. And then what happened? It was funny. They said he was terrible. He was so rough with Chairman Kim, Kim Jong Un. He was so rough, it’s terrible. He’s going to cause—well, I had a great meeting with President Putin.
And on that one, they said he was too soft with President Putin. I had a great meeting with—it lasted for two hours. We discussed everything, Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Israel’s protection, we had a great meeting. They wanted me to end up in a boxing match.
And you know what? If I was killer tough with President Putin, they would have said he was too tough. You can’t win with these people, but you just keep going. In the meantime, we’re doing well.
Whoever is they at the moment, whoever in the president’s mind is scheming and hostile and out to get him, the important thing is: He is unflustered by it all. Trump the calm, Trump the imperturbable describes the cruelty and unfairness of the external world, its relentless victimization of himself, and then ends the story by explaining how little he cares about it all. “In the meantime, we’re doing well.” “It’s interesting.”
By the way, what President Moon said last night, I know you won’t report it, but Bret Baier interviewed him last night, and he asked him about me. I can’t say because you would say I’m too braggadocious, but what he said about me last night was an unbelievable thing. “It couldn’t have happened without President Trump, and it never would happen without President Trump. And nobody else could do it.”
Everybody loves him, yet somehow nobody will acknowledge it. He’s a huge winner, maliciously being depicted as a loser. He loves women, women love him, we all inwardly know that truth. Yet we will not admit what we know. Instead, lying women paid by his enemies falsely accuse him and somehow their stories get repeated by the very people who—Trump tells us—know those stories to be false.
I’ve had many false—I’ve had many false statements against me and if the press would have reported, I would have been very happy. I think John Roberts would tell you that you covered the story where the women were paid to say bad things about me. Sean Hannity covered it. I will tell you when I saw that on Sean Hannity, I actually called him.
Believe it or not, I don’t speak to him very much, but I respect him. I called him. I said this is the biggest story, this is a big, big story. He agreed with me. The next day I picked up the papers, there wasn’t one word about it. The next day I watched ABC News, John, I watched NBC, I watched CBS, I didn’t watch CNN, but next time I’ll do it.
Question: And are you okay with —
I watched everything, there wasn’t one story other than Fox. And it’s a big story, it’s a shame. Okay, enough. Thank you.
Thank God for Sean Hannity, who can support the president’s assessment of what is fair and unfair coverage, what is and what is not a big story. How alone would the president feel without Hannity?
The central drama of the Trump presidency, in Trump’s telling, is not about the economy or China or trade or judges or any issue. It is the ceaseless unavailing struggle for credit, credit so unfairly withheld, and Trump’s own serene indifference (as he says) to whether he gets credit or not. He does not care, no, not him!
He cares so little that again and again, as he called on questioners, he prefaced the question with a short sad observation about how unfair the question would be to him.
Steve, go ahead. He is a very high-quality person, this man. But he’ll probably …
Question: Thank you, Mr. President.
… hit me with a bad one.
Some of his unfair questioners, especially the women, will try to dupe him with seeming agreeableness. Trump sees right through that technique.
Yes, ma’am, go ahead. Go ahead, please. This is the one that was nodding with every nice thing I said. So watch this question.
Looming brooding above and behind all the unfairness is the most important presence in the room, the superego of the Trump psychic drama: The New York Times.
Question: New York Times, New York Times.
Question: Thank you, sir.
I would have gotten a bad story in The New York Times, but I will anyways so I guess it doesn’t matter. Okay, we’ll do you, after then we’ll call it quits.
Question: We’re kind of thriving, not failing these days.
You’re doing very well. Say thank you, Mr. Trump.
Question: I think I’ll stop short of that.
I wonder how you do—you know, all my life I’ve had very few stories, but I’ve had some on the front page of The New York Times. Now I think I average about three or four a day, right? And of the three or four, they’re all negative. No matter what I do, they’re negative. But you know what? That’s okay, I still love the paper. Go ahead.
Question: I wanted to come back to China ….
However bad and unfair the questions, the answers are always great, if Trump must say so himself. So great, that he cannot stop delivering the answers. Repeatedly, the president insisted that the next question will be final—only to add one more so he can do an even better job than he did the time before.
I think we should finish with that one. Is that okay?
Go ahead. Let’s go. Fast.
Question: Sure. What …
I always like—I always like to finish with a good one. Elton John said when you hit that last tune and it’s good, don’t go back.
Question: Well, let me ask you …
I’ve seen—have you ever seen? They do great. They’re great. They hit the last tune and everyone goes crazy. Then they go back for an encore, right? And they don’t hit it. And they leave, everyone leaves. And they say that wasn’t a very good concert was it? Let’s go.
Question: Well, I’ll ask you one—one final question …
You—don’t make me wrong. Go ahead.
Yet somehow the disquieting voices in his head—the voices that call him a failure, a loser, a disappointment to Dad—can never be quieted. No matter how vigorously he praises himself, the final validation never comes. You know who never had that problem? President Barack Obama. While Trump is unfairly diminished, depreciated, criticized, and laughed at, Obama collected accolade after accolade he did not deserve. You did not notice that? Then you, too, are being unfair. Trump noticed it, and while of course it does not bother him—it’s just interesting—he must underscore it again and again, almost two full years after Obama left office.
He is better than Obama at selecting judges.
You know, it’s very interesting. I pick a lot of judges—I have 145 judges I will be picking by the end of a fairly short period of time, because President Obama wasn’t big on picking judges. When I got there, I said, How is this possible? I have 145, including court-of-appeals judges. And they just didn’t do it. You know why? They got tired, they got complacent—something happened. I have 145 judges.
He has been tougher than Obama on Cuba and Latin American dictatorships.
I’ve been very proactive against Cuba. I don’t like what’s happening in Cuba. As you know, President Obama gave them a pass, and I didn’t like it. Neither do Cuban people based in Miami and based in our country that came from Cuba and suffered in Cuba.
I don’t like what he did. I’ve ended much of it, most of it. I don’t like what’s happening in Cuba, and I certainly don’t like what’s happening in Venezuela.
He has managed the economy better than Obama despite President Obama’s unfair advantage in having started with an imminent collapse of the banking system and the ensuing disappearance of commercial credit, as manifested by a near zero interest rate.
President Obama had an economy that was—it was the worst comeback since the Great Depression and all that. You’ve all heard that. But remember, he was playing with zero-interest money. He was playing with funny money. That’s easy.
I’m playing with fairly expensive money.
Most crucially: Trump and only Trump saved the world from the nuclear war upon North Korea that Obama surely would have launched had he somehow gained a third term.
You were going to have a war—if I wasn’t elected, you’d be in a war. And President Obama essentially said the same thing; he was ready to go to war. You would have had a war and you would have lost millions, not thousands, you would have lost millions of people. Seoul has millions of people, 40 miles and 30 miles from this very dangerous border.
If I wasn’t elected, you would have had a war. President Obama thought you had to go to war. You know how close he was to pressing the trigger for war? Millions of people. With me, nobody’s talking about that. Nobody’s talking about that.
So everything is great, terrific, fabulous, the best ever. Everything is unfair, dangerous, the worst. President Trump is doing such a tremendous job, everybody knows it. Why won’t the voices in his head allow him an untormented moment of peace?