This week began with angry Trump, but, don’t worry, it ended with the president as a happy man.
There he was Monday evening, jaw set in the familiar simian rictus, marching from the White House across Lafayette Square, with a cloud of flunkies and Secret Service agents trailing him. His path had just been cleared of inconvenient citizens by phalanxes of cops using tear gas in hopes of making the president’s walk in the park as pleasant and uneventful as a walk in the park. Still he scowled. Having crossed the square, he drew to a stop in front of the boarded-up parish house of St. John’s Church. The parish house was boarded up because someone had set fire to its basement during protests the night before. Maybe that’s why Trump was scowling. You can never tell. In any case, a Bible appeared and the president turned toward the cameras, hoisting it upside down. He pointed at it with his free hand. “A Bible,” he explained. Then he went home.
His critics quickly dismissed this episode as a mere “photo op.” The term was a favorite of the Episcopal bishop, who seemed angrier at Trump for using her church as a “prop” than at the arsonists who tried to burn it to cinders. Photo op, like talking point, is a generic, off-the-shelf insult, easily turned around and seldom effective. Photo ops are one of the primary means by which every president since Theodore Roosevelt has tried to impress the public. What made Trump’s photo op bizarre was that nobody could make out what it was supposed to mean.