After Monday's nearly three-hour press briefing on what should have focused only on the coronavirus pandemic, it's now clear that the purportedly "conservative" President Trump is not that at all. We know that because of his assertion that he has "total" authority over governors to reopen the states' economies.
"When somebody's the president of the United States," he said, "the authority is total. And that is the way it's going to be. It's total. It's total. And the governors know that."
He expounded later on Twitter that (the omnipresent "some") are "saying that it is the Governors decision, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect ... (emphasis added) it is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons."
Presidents who assert significant new policies or decisions usually come equipped with explanations. Not Trump. When reporters asked him to explain how he came to that conclusion, he cited "numerous provisions" in the Constitution.
Did he reveal those provisions? Oh, please. Legal experts who know what they're talking about pointed out that the Constitution gives states sole authority during public health crises, and governors the right to decide when it is safe to lift any restrictions posted to protect the public.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, who is indisputably a conservative, cited the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution in asserting that the federal government "does not have absolute power."
Modern presidents have known that in times of crises, Americans look to them for guidance, for solace, for information on how they will meet those crises head on. The intent is to assure us that soon, everything will be well.
That's been true for decades, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's decisive actions and comforting assurances during the Depression and World War II and continuing through George W. Bush's handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Barack Obama's deft response to the recession that nearly upended our economy.
But as Monday's briefing showed, Trump is those presidents' polar opposite. In the midst of an economically destabilizing pandemic, he takes valuable time to insult reporters, to present mendacious rationales for a political power grab and to rewrite history.
The last point is key. He now claims that "everything we did was right," and says there were "many good reasons" for asserting the total authority to open up the states' economies. Not so long ago, however, when the coronavirus began its malevolent spread, he (in)famously told us that "I take no responsibility at all." Few presidential press briefings would be complete without Trump's eager — nay, obsessive — complaints about his critics.
Sure enough, after introducing the session with a video that claimed "the media minimized the [pandemic] risk from the start," Trump lashed out at reporters with his usual insults and claimed that "It's very sad when people write false stories." That was a slap at The New York Times over its Sunday report, based on numerous interviews with government sources, about the president's delayed response to the virus.
To no one's surprise Trump added insults aimed at Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, two of many politicians the president routinely demonizes. It's a practice that strengthens the often bipartisan conclusions that Trump's insecurity, narcissism and impetuousness are deeply alarming.
Jennifer Senior, an opinion writer for The New York Times, wrote a recent commentary about Trump's performance in the current crisis and linked it to concerns about what's known as narcissistic personality disorder. Among other things she wrote that such personalities "exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win."
And, she said, they "live in terror of being upstaged [and] they're too thin skinned to be told they're wrong."
(For example, as Politico reported on Tuesday, CBS News' Paula Reid noted that in the video there was a "one month gap in February between the time Trump restricted travel from China and the first clip of the president speaking authoritatively on the virus."
Trump's response: "You're disgraceful," while "declining to offer any specific answers to her question."
Were the president's Monday briefing and his erratic actions of the past three years an ominous harbinger of what's to come when the presidential campaign gets underway? We'll know soon enough.
Michael Loftin is a former opinion page editor at The Chattanooga Times.