What Did I Just Watch? Notes on Trump's Press Conference

The President-Elect Continues His Feud With BuzzFeed

Politics Features Donald Trump
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What Did I Just Watch? Notes on Trump's Press Conference

I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It did not happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents they got together — sick people — and they put that crap together.

Well, that was instructive. Donald Trump just gave his first press conference since July. It was the rambling, fugue style we’ve all come to know in this last year. The shadow of power had not changed the man a whit; it was the same symphony of grab-ass I’d seen since the beginning of the campaign. The collusion of free-association and off-the-cuff speechifying was, on its face, reminiscent of the great monologues from the canon of Bret Easton Ellis. I keep returning the last scene of “American Psycho,” where Patrick Bateman confesses to all of his crimes on the phone.

On its face, the press conference happened so Trump could contest the intelligence hack. BuzzFeed announced it possessed a memo detailing Russian dirt on the President-elect.
“These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia,” BuzzFeed wrote, “A dossier, compiled by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official, alleges Russia has compromising information on Trump. The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.”

Trump and his organization, fresh from being slapped around by Streep, decided it was time to release the man’s thoughts on Russia and God knows what else.

There was a lot of damning information in the release, that, if true, makes Trump look like a dupe inside a spiderish intelligence structure. Of course the Orangeman had to reply.

So there’s a great spirit going on right now, a spirit that many people have told me they’ve never seen before — ever. We’re going to create jobs. I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created, and I mean that.

I would very much like to give you what the other press offices of the Republic are going to give you, a point-by-point addressing of what happened, and move on from there. The conference was the stuff you’d expect:

- I have an idiosyncratic understanding of our laws of collusion, my large sons will run the company for me. Also, my lawyers have come up with this hoopla. Here is a table full of manila envelopes filled with every company in Emerald City.

- Obamacare goes, we will replace it. We have no details on this yet.

- Hacking bad, we have no defense in this country. I have no details about how to fix it.

- Russia hacked the DNC, Hillary had no defense, they’re not our sweethearts, but who knows?

- The Press is terrible, it’s fake news, it’s terrible. Now I will open the floor to questions from you, the ladies and gentlemen of the Press

These claims were disputable on their face. In fact, it is highly doubtful that the business arrangements Trump proposes would come anywhere near the idea of clean, or disengaged. The explanation from Trump’s attorney was the sort of nutrient-free legal grout you can hear regurgitated for zero money down on Meet The Press every weekend. The fact is, Trump has taken no serious steps to disentangle himself from the golden predicament he has been swaddled in since birth, and unless titanic pressure is brought to bear down upon our Donald, it is unlikely he will shake off those billionaire chains any time soon.

The rest of the conference reminded me of a flashback episode/clip show. Trump rehashed his themes, which by now are so familiar to Americans. It was an ecstasy of subject-jumping: Hillary and the press hate Trump, Russia has a hand in this, but they’re not the only ones; my enemies are scrubs; every one of the people up here with me have done a great job, proceed as before.

However, I can’t give you a direct description of what happened, because that would be dishonest. The normal way of description is to say “Trump stood in Trump Tower and replied to haters.” But that is not the truth of what just happened, any more than I can describe World War II as “a big serious fight.” It’s the technical truth, but not the whole truth. Trump gave a press conference, and I feel, for the hundredth time, as if I have a fever.

Because in your hotel rooms — and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras. I’m not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category — and number one I hope you’re going to be good anyway. But in those rooms you have cameras in the strangest places. Cameras that are so small with modern technology, you can’t see them and you won’t know. “You better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.” I tell this to people all the time. I was in Russia, years ago, with the Miss Universe contest, which did very well. Moscow, the Moscow area. Did very, very well. And I told many people, “Be careful. Because you don’t wanna see yourself on television.” Cameras all over the place. And again, not just Russia. All over. Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me.

Good God, just writing about this it dulls the sense of the absurd. Watching the talking heads ramble about Trump information this and agenda this, you could almost still believe this was a normal moment in American politics and human life. This approach to the news fails, utterly fails, to grasp the surreal onslaught which swamps the sense and boggles the mind:

And other people. And I can say that — when we lost twenty two million names and everything else that was hacked recently — they did not make a big deal out of that — was something extraordinary that was probably China — we had much hacking going on. One of the things we will do — we have some of the greatest — computer minds anywhere in the world that we have assembled.

Any reporter or writer who fails to acknowledge we are in the midst of a full-on no-precedent unicorn moment is kidding themselves. They are getting at the press-release version of the truth, and not the truth itself. This is perhaps one of the many reasons fiction appeals to us so much: it tells us facts about the world that documentary approaches cannot.

Reality is not so cut and dried. In this world, it makes perfect sense that Trump ended his first post-election press conference with “You’re fired.” Yes, why wouldn’t he? After all, the big question of the day involved the intersection of urine with the Executive Branch of the Constitution, just as the Founders intended.

Here’s the thing about writing about business, and politics, and any commentary about the world. People who aren’t in the biz imagine that it’s a life about hunting stories, much like in All The President’s Men.

But no. Maybe it was that way in the Jurassic past when the sun shone differently, but not now.

The fact of reporting in general, and on Trump specifically, is that you, the reporter, can barely keep up. As a journalist, you are not fishing for single carp—you are being slapped in the face by millions of mutated flying fish assaulting your boat. It is a ceaseless, bizarre Niagara of what-the-hell every single moment. These are fat times for the writing class: you are trying, always, to hold onto the wild mustang.

Trump’s press conference doesn’t offend my sense of decency. It dizzies my sense of reality.

As I’m typing this, the President-elect is free-associating about Nazi Germany and just got into a fight with BuzzfFeed. Remember that scene in Fellowship of the Ring, where the gang is in the Mines of Moria, and they’re reading the story of the orcs, and the last lines are something like “”They have taken the bridge… and the second hall … They are coming!’”

How can the mind even comprehend all of this new Trump reality … memes upon memes … should have sent a poet. He just started repeating “Lindsey Graham …. Lindsey Graham — I’ve been competing with him for a long time. He is going to crack that one percent barrier one day.”

The conventional wisdom about Trump has it that you have to approach him as you would the serious, solid facts of the CIA World Factbook—and that’s how you get him. Logic, cross-examination.

But that won’t do, no, won’t do at all. Would you fight a wizard with a blowtorch and tire-iron? No. Trump exists because he exploits the holes in the old ways of doing media.

To understand the Orangeman you can’t approach him as you would other politicians. You’d do better trying to explain the Newtonian laws on a booze cruise. It’s like trying to unravel mid-century Madison Avenue without ever referring the brand names of alcohol. He operates in a miasma of absurdity no laser can shine through. To get Trump, you have to go weird. Trump demands maximalism, and a constant, continual appreciation for what in the hell is happening. The onslaught of absurdity does not ebb. Yes … one cannot appreciate what is happening in our national life without this background fact. As I’ve written before, if you keep treating him like a normal politician, he will fool you every single time.

The rest of this conference will be spun out for the next week or so, and I have zero doubt that there will be deconstructions and analyses in abundance. What I have seen is weird as hell, and we cannot lose track of that fact. The press cannot “normalize” Trump, even when they try. This is not a normal world, and this is not a normal time.

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