Trump Started 2019 on an Angry, Lonely Note

While the nation celebrated, the president brooded, berated, and tweeted his way through the new year.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Americans across the country rang in the new year in the usual way—by kissing their loved ones, partying with friends, watching the Times Square ball drop on television.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, started off 2019 by urging the nation to “JUST CALM DOWN.”

This all-caps presidential exhortation, delivered to some 56.8 million Twitter followers and, by extension, the country at large, was of a piece with Trump’s tweeted musings for the duration of the holiday period. For a commander in chief who had planned to spend some relative downtime playing golf and mingling with his well-heeled friends at Mar-a-Lago, it was, apparently, a decidedly unrelaxed holiday. With the exception of a long-haul flight for a brief visit with U.S. troops in Iraq, Trump was holed up in the White House for the past 10 days as he presided over a partial government shutdown.

So he brooded, he berated, he watched TV, and he tweeted.

In all, the president sent 75 tweets between Christmas Eve and 9 a.m. eastern on Wednesday morning, and they ran the gamut: from cheery holiday messages (“Enjoy yourselves!” he said in one New Year’s video filmed on the White House lawn), to updates on foreign policy, commentary on lower gas prices, a rebuttal to comments from his departing chief of staff, and the rueful lament of the world’s most powerful man “all alone” on the day before Christmas. There were angry lashings at the Democrats for refusing him his border wall, familiar complaints about the Robert Mueller “Witch Hunt Hoax,” and ripostes at two prominent critics, Senator-to-be Mitt Romney and Stanley McChrystal, the retired four-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“‘General’ McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama,” Trump tweeted after the general said the president was “immoral” in an interview with ABC News. “Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!”

Trump also dropped in promotions for positively framed books about his presidency by two of his allies: Sebastian Gorka, the former White House adviser who was forced out amid reports of his membership in a Hungarian group sympathetic to Nazis, and Stephen Moore, a conservative economic adviser. And he trumpeted strong economic news—though he said little about the falling stock market—and other accomplishments by his administration in 2018.

But the bulk of his holiday tweets revolved, in some way or another, around the fight over the southern border wall that precipitated the government shutdown. The president repeated his dubious claims that Mexico would be “paying for the Wall,” as he famously promised during his campaign, through the increased economic output that would be generated by a new trade deal revising NAFTA. At one point, Trump blamed the deaths of two migrant children detained at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities on the Democrats, and he accused them of not caring about “Open Borders and all of the crime and drugs that Open Borders bring.” He oscillated between that hard-edged tone on the shutdown and the hint of a more flexible position, which was embedded in a tweet inviting Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, to “make a deal?”

Among the more notable tweets was a false accusation that the Obamas had built a “ten-foot Wall” around their D.C. house, along with a message that compared the efficacy of walls in general to the enduring utility of wheels.

Perhaps the most jarring tweet, however, was Trump’s initial New Year’s message to the country, delivered in the digital scream of caps lock. (Note: This was not Trump’s first tweet of 2019—that honor was reserved for a book plug for Gorka.)

Part celebratory, part boastful, and part resentful, it was a fitting message from a president who sees himself constantly under siege, and one that resembled an often recirculated 2013 tweet, in which Trump extended best wishes to those commemorating the anniversary of 9/11, “even the haters and the losers.” A day later, the president even suggested that he should take his own advice: In a rare moment of self-reflection during his first Cabinet meeting of the year, the president said his job would be “a lot easier if I just relaxed and enjoyed the presidency like a lot of other people have done.”

Midway through his term, Trump is a president struggling to staff his White House and Cabinet, who orchestrated a shutdown over a campaign promise his own party could not deliver, who is dreading the denouement of a damaging investigation, and whose prospects for future legislative achievements have likely been doused by the ascendance of the Democrats in Congress.

Trump’s Twitter feed may not regularly pack the same punch it once did, as a Tuesday piece in Politico argued. But at least over the holidays, it remained the clearest reflection of the president’s current, chaotic reality.

“It’s going to be a great year,” Trump, mustering some optimism, said in one tweeted video message. He quickly caught himself: “Complicated,” he added, “but great.”