This post is mostly for posterity.
That’s because the president’s nightly pandemic performance, in its demoralizing theatrics, defies anyone’s effort to do anything about it. Using the virus as a personal springboard, the so-called briefings largely manage to demonstrate Trump’s dominance over the airwaves and any pushback.
News media and the Twitterverse have been handwringing over these displays for weeks, the criticism and sarcasm escalating like the coronavirus infection graph. On stage, Trump undercuts his experts. He corrects them with fallacies and his own prescriptions–pharmaceutical and otherwise. He vilifies reporters for citing facts. Editorial writers emphasize how Trump has replaced his rallies with these Trump-a-thons. (The programs are scheduled every night so they preempt the local news.) Mostly, though, the media confirms that it’s a show.
The invectives, self-aggrandizement, projection, and revisionist history grew so blatant last week that even the Wall Street Journal editorial page called him out. Beyond casting verdict on the briefings as a show, however, the Journal went the further step (knowing what Trump really cares about) to give it a “thumbs down” review. “The sessions,” the headline began, “have become a boring show of President vs. the press.” (Here’s a bigger chunk of it from outside the paywall.)
Trump was so offended by the Journal’s admonition to leave the briefings to the professionals, he used a segment of the next show to fire back at the “fake” and ‘less popular’ Journal.
The suggestion that Trump would, somehow, lower his profile also bled into the White House’s “photos of the week” press release. (Good luck trying to subscribe. We get a bootlegged copy.) In the April 10th edition, the White House communications group doubled down. The perfect chaser to a week of Trump Taskforce TV was a barrage of photos of Trump headlining every night–evidenced, as you see, from this grid of images from the newsletter, with Trump in a different tie.
That wasn’t the only theme of the photo release, though. Over the the week, Trump also got into another snit with Anthony Fauci. Choosing his battles by the week, the science and infectious disease rock star got on Trump’s bad side again for too much truth telling and contradicting. Can we assume that accounted for the choice of photo top left, of Trump’s inattention and icy stare when the revered doctor was at the podium?
It’s hard not to think that Fauci’s insubordination also accounted for the photo below, a real heel of a portrait that also appeared in the newsletter. Adlai Stevenson, you’re not!
Which brings me back to the picture leading this post. The image, taken by Tom Brenner, is set in the hallway leading to the White House’s James Brady press briefing room.
As I’ve said many times, the DC photo press corps has been brilliant and relentless at seeing Trump for who he is. They can do that because a photograph, editorial as it might be, still remains open to interpretation. Playing off the reflection, Trump is a man about to run headlong into himself, his White House a hall of mirrors. (This is not the only photo to work Trump and the mirroring. Here’s a very good version by Doug Mills.) But Brenner adds a brilliant and unique twist.
It’s not funny at all, of course. Every day right now, people in the United States are dying by the thousands and being infected by the tens of thousands by COVID-19. And Trump’s failure to address the virus early, or to coherently steward the situation since, is leading to a catastrophe of much greater magnitude. At the same time, with those cool blue walls and the lights reflecting garishly off the carpet, the photo serves as the perfect specimen. While others can only criticize, Brenner’s photo successfully captures the spectacle that intubates America for hours each night. In Trump’s own viral way, he has turned Washington into Las Vegas.
— Michael Shaw