Riot In The East Room

On the day after the mid-term elections, Donald J Trump called a press conference in the White House East Room.

And the way he comported himself was an example of what the U S Penal Code has in mind when it says those who deliberately incite a riot are answerable to the law.

True to form, Trump began my celebrating his “victory” in the elections.

“This was a great victory for us,” he said. And when a reporter pointed out that it was, uh, “not a complete victory for you” he replied “I thought it was very close to a complete victory” for me.

Close to a complete victory?

Except, of course, for the fact that Democrats have won control of the U S House of Representatives in convincing fashion which would henceforth stand as a block to his most cruel and  and selfish ambitions.

Trump said he hadn’t devoted much attention to the House races  – except to one in which his candidate won – and failure for the Republicans to hold the House could not be laid at his doorstep.

He said he had concentrated on Senate races, and there “We saw the candidates I supported achieve tremendous success last night,” Trump asserted. And in truth, several of the candidates for whom he campaigned did win their races in Senate contests.

But not all.

Nevada Senate Republican Dean Heller was beaten and Trump’s number one Senate campaign target, Montana Democrat Jon Tester won re-election in a State Trump had carried by almost twenty points in 2016, and despite Trump having visited the State four times this year to campaign against him. Two other Senate races Trump campaigned in – Florida and Arizona – are still too close to call as I write.

The exit polls show that the Blue Wave that gave the Democrats a House majority was propelled by women, minorities, young voters (up to the age of 49) and educated voters.  Uniformly, they said in exit polling that a significant factor in their vote was their dislike for Donald J Trump.

But in Trump’s analysis of the election outcome he saw it differently.

He said the election results show that “People like me and like the job I’m doing.”  And asked about the morality of his leadership style, he said “I think I am a great moral leader.”

The main event in the press conference, however, was not Trump’s fanciful boasting and puffing  – he is who he is and we long since learned who he is – No, the main event was his defensive, angry, intemperate reaction to the legitimate questions of the press, which at moments looked to the television audience like an incitement to riot among reporters in the White House East Room.

It began when Trump called on Jim Acosta of CNN who asked about Trump’s characterization of the migrant caravan making its way through Mexico as  an “invasion” of the United States.

And I borrow now the account from a published CNN report of  the exchanges that followed:

Acosta began – “As you know, Mr. President, the caravan is not an invasion, It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the US–“Trump, sarcastically, replied, “Thank you for telling me that, I appreciate it.”

Acosta: “Why did you characterize it as such?”

“Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion.”

“But do you think that you demonized immigrants?”

“No, not at all. I want them to come into the country. But they have to come in legally.”

“That’s what the migrants are trying to do — they say they intend to seek asylum. They’re hundreds of miles away, though. They’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away. That’s not an invasion.”

“You know what? I think you should,” Trump started to say, pointing at Acosta. “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Trump said as Acosta tried to ask another question.

A White House staffer hurried over to grab the mic and carry it to the next reporter. Trump chose, NBC’s Peter Alexander.

The White House staffer tried to grab the mic from Acosta, but he held onto it.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said, as she looked toward Trump, then ducked out of camera view.

“Peter, let’s go,” Trump said, trying to move on to Alexander.

“If I can ask, on the Russia investigation,” Acosta said, “are you concerned that you may have indictments coming down–”

“I am not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation because it is a hoax,” Trump said, “That is enough, put down the mic.”

Signaling he was done, while Acosta asked the question again and then let go of the mic.

While Alexander started to ask his question, Trump said, “I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them.” He pointed at Acosta: “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

Then he turned to Alexander: “Go ahead.” But he turned his focus back to Acosta: “You are a very rude person, the way that you treat Sarah Huckabee Sanders is horrible. The way that you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”

“Go ahead,” Trump said to Alexander.

The NBC journalist then spoke up in Acosta’s defense: “I’ve traveled with him and watched him, he is a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.”

“Well I’m not a big fan of yours either, to be honest,” Trump said, prompting laughs in the room. He disparages NBC almost as often as CNN.

“So let me ask you a question,” Alexander said, not missing a beat.

Acosta stood back up and spoke. His comments were not totally audible on live TV, but Acosta could be heard asking about the dangers of Trump’s anti-media attacks, like the use of the term “enemy of the people.”

“When you report fake news, which CNN does, a lot, you are the enemy of the people,” Trump said, turning back to Alexander.” End of the CNN account.

When April Ryan, a senior African American White House reporter repeatedly sought recognition to ask a question Trump repeatedly told her to sit down and said he would not call on her.

And when he heard a question he didn’t like, Trump returned again and again to the theme of how “dishonest” and “fake” and “enemy of the people” the news media is.

A reporter asked him about accusations that he has made numerous racial slurs against  black people, citing the names of those who have publicly claimed to have heard him do it.

He hotly denied ever having made a slur against blacks saying his approval ratings among blacks was higher than it has ever been  and you could hear mutterings from the assembled press corps suggesting he was not believable on that score.

Another example was this exchange.

Toward the end of the event, Yamiche Alcindor, a correspondent for PBS “NewsHour,” asked Trump about the widely shared view that his rhetoric has emboldened white nationalists.

“That’s a racist question,” Trump said repeatedly in response in an attempt to turn a legitimate question against the questioner instead of answering it.

As this farce of a news conference continued, reporters became agitated in an attempt to gain recognition. Decorum was somewhat abandoned. Clearly the press corps was upset as a whole by this unjustified condemnation of the news media in angry terms by the President of the United States.

When it was over, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chided the press thusly:

“Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members questions of him and his Administration,” she said.

Then, referring to the attempt by a White House aide to wrest the microphone from Acosta’s hand, Sanders said:”We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable.”

CNN producer Allie Malloy responded to Sanders via Twitter: “This is a complete lie. The woman grabbed Jim’s arm repeatedly. He never once touched her. In fact at one point @Acosta tells her politely ‘pardon me, mam’ as she’s yanking on his arm.”

The video clearly shows that Sander’s version of the incident is dead wrong.

And shortly thereafter, in a move unprecedented, the White House revoked Jim Acosta’s access by suspending his White House pass.

Donald J Trump in his fantasy world clearly has mis-read the results of the Elections. And in his angry attack on the reporters who are attempting to do the job they are expected to do he has clearly mis-understood both the proper role of a free press and the reaction of the majority of Americans to his intemperate and unjustified actions in this regard.

No politician likes the press which asks uncomfortable questions and digs out uncomfortable information that interferes with a “Worshipful press release fashion existence” but the smart ones understand the role of the press and support it.

As Harry Truman famously said of those seeking public office, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

But whoever thought Donald J Trump was smart in this regard?

I learned how this man viewed the press years ago.

In 1990. when the business reporters were writing that Trump was in financial trouble, not able to service the massive debt he had accumulated in buying “Trump Airlines,” the venerable Plaza Hotel and building the Taj Mahal Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, I interviewed him for our ABC Magazine program “Prime Time Live.”

His critics were wrong, he said, blowing smoke and bravado in non-stop style.

Yes, he might sell some of his holdings to raise cash but not because he had to but to make other investments. For instance, he said  he was going to sell his yacht the Princess which he had bought for twenty million and refurbished for an additional nine million the very next week for 115 million dollars.

“Why would someone pay that price for a twenty million dollar yacht,” I asked.

“Because it’s a trophy,  my possessions are trophies,” he replied in typical Trump modesty.

When I tried to interrupt him to get in a question, he said I was acting rudely,  “You’re rude to everybody else, don’t be rude to me, ” he admonished me.

When I asked him whether all the money he had used to buy the airline, the hotel and build the casino was borrowed he said I was showing my ignorance.

“Why do you say it’s borrowed money, what do you know about ‘borrowed money’ (?) if you were smart you’d want to see my  books.”

I said okay, send me your books. He replied he just might do that.

I’m still waiting.

In the end he accused me of being  “out to get him.”

Well, I didn’t mean to be rude but I discovered that keeping Donald J Trump to the subject, to an answer for the question asked, was a herculean task. The only way to get him to the point was to interrupt him.

And yes, I  didn’t have first hand knowledge of his business but could only ask him to answer to the criticisms of those who apparently did.

As it turned out, he lost the Plaza and the airline to the banks because he could not make his payments on the money he had borrowed to buy them and the only thing that saved him from total  default on the Taj Mahal was his friend Carl Icahn , an actual billionaire, who assumed his massive debt. He did sell the Princess Yacht six months later (not “next week”) and not for 115 million dollars but for twenty million dollars, exactly what he had paid for it. He lost the nine million refurbishing money on the deal.

And as a result of  all this failure, the New York banks wouldn’t lend him any more money. He had to borrow elsewhere. Once we see his Corporate tax returns we’ll know from whom he borrowed and thus to whom he is indebted. I’m betting he will voluntarily make public those tax returns  on the same day I get a look at his books.

Finally, at the time I interviewed Donald J Trump in 1990, I was certainly not out to get him. But as I’ve watched him campaign for and then conduct the office of President of the United States, as I watch how he treats people, all I can say is…

…times change!

 

 

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