If there was some lingering hope among Republican professionals that Donald Trump would somehow, as the old cliché has it, “grow” into the office, his first 48 hours as president dispelled it immediately. The White House is already jittery with fright at the unpredictability of a childlike figure who has been handed terrifying powers, like the famous Twilight Zone episode about a 6-year-old-boy with magical abilities.
The evidence for Trump’s unfitness for office comes from Republicans themselves, who discuss the president in the most patronizing terms. The managerial catastrophe begins with the fact that Trump knows extremely little about public policy. Because he knows so little about government, Trump gives incoherent or contradictory statements that leave even his allies confused about his beliefs. “Senior Congressional Republicans have privately told several people that Trump seems to have no clarity on where he stands on many issues,” reported Maggie Haberman recently. Many of them simply dismiss his statements as empty puffery. After Trump said he would cut regulation by 75 percent, one Republican member of Congress told John Harwood, “[T]hat’s Trump just making a large number.” There is little prospect this will change, because Trump lacks the attention span to read anything of substance. Something as long as a book is out of the question. Even memos strain his mental capacity. Trump is committed to reading as little as possible. This is not an insult. “As little as possible” is Trump’s own account of his reading habits. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page,” he tells Axios.
Trump’s inability to read anything of length has unfortunately freed him up for hours of channel surfing. But his addiction to television reinforces other character weaknesses: his wild mood swings and irritability. “One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and have to control information that may infuriate him,” reports Josh Dawsey. “He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that.”
Trump reportedly instructed his press secretary to read a comically dishonest boast about the size of the crowds at his Inaugural address after being irritated by photos showing a much more sparse crowd than he had predicted. Read this account from the New York Times and try to keep in mind that this is not a troubled teen but the president of the United States:
Mr. Trump grew increasingly angry on Inauguration Day after reading a series of Twitter messages pointing out that the size of his inaugural crowd did not rival that of Mr. Obama’s in 2009. But he spent his Friday night in a whirlwind of celebration and affirmation. When he awoke on Saturday morning, after his first night in the Executive Mansion, the glow was gone, several people close to him said, and the new president was filled anew with a sense of injury.
That day, Saturday, Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency. He began his remarks on the appropriate theme of thanking the staff there and vaguely promising to work together in a shared mission. Eventually, he rambled through a discursive series of themes, boasting of his own intelligence (“I’m like a smart person,” a claim he supported with his favorite evidence, an uncle who taught at MIT.) Eventually Trump came round to the issue that was vexing him that morning, the media’s alleged lies about his allegedly enormous crowd:
And I was explaining about the numbers. We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech? (Applause.) I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech.
This, again, was not a political rally but a speech to CIA officers. He used the occasion to tell rambling fantasies about his crowds because he could not contain the massive wound to his ego. Oliver Wendell Holmes famously summed up Franklin Roosevelt as a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament. Trump has a third-class intellect and a third-class temperament. The frightening surreality of what has happened to the United States has only begun to sink in.