On Tuesday, Donald Trump delivered a televised Oval Office address, hoping to marshal the gravitas of the presidency to get his way on a border wall.
The gambit was doomed from the start.
Insofar as prime-time addresses from the White House have power, it is rooted in the public’s belief that there is dignity in the office, that its occupant possesses moral authority, and that he or she would ask for our attention only if the matter at hand was unusually important.
But Trump is an undignified, popular-vote loser with underwater approval ratings. After decades of tawdry tabloid headlines, flagrant greed, and countless lies, he is last among us in moral authority. And he makes daily demands on our attention like no president before.
Of course, Trump has gone far behaving as no other politician would. If critics are appalled that he routinely violates taboos to speak his mind, if they took offense at his attacks on political rivals or adherents of Islam or undocumented immigrants or a federal judge of Mexican descent, many of his core voters revel in his transgressive edginess.
However, that path to power has consequences. In the Oval Office, Trump lacks the credibility of his predecessors. He is no more a dignified statesman than any other Twitter edgelord. Sitting at a desk that is a symbol of respectable statesmanship leaves Trump seeming diminished and confused, like King Joffrey realizing the Iron Throne does not itself confer stature.