The Los Angeles Times broke away from other major newspapers yesterday by reporting that, since the midterms, Donald Trump has refused to (or been unable to) perform even his usual minimum duties as president—that he “has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment” and “has been increasingly absent in recent days—except on Twitter.” The fact of the cocoon of bitterness was attributed to “multiple administration sources,” but the news of his absence was simply a matter of compiling, end to end, all the things that he was visibly not doing: his canceled cemetery appearance in France, his failure to go lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day, his refusal to meet with heads of state or schedule a trip to Asian summit meetings or go visit the troops he’d dispatched to the border in his failed election stunt.
It was always obvious that if Donald Trump was unlucky enough to actually win the presidential election, things would get to this point. He is an elderly, out-of-shape tax-fraud heir who has spent his life doing nothing more effortful than yelling at people on the phone, lying to contractors and the press, and playing golf. The presidency is an endless grind that leaves vigorous, healthy men haggard and gray. Trump taking the oath of office to be president was as realistic as him saying he wanted to be the Kool-Aid man and trying to run through a cinderblock wall.
In this case, the wall appears to have been the two-year mark. Until now, he was faking his way through by blowing off most of the real work of the job—learning anything about anything, and making policy decisions—and just making ceremonial gestures toward being in charge. Now he’s blowing off even easy ceremonies. Whether it’s his physical, mental, or emotional reserves (the Los Angeles Times focused on the emotional side), he’s used something up and can’t function anymore.
Meanwhile, the New York Times was still running a story about him as if he were actively being president. “Trump Assails Macron and Defends Decision to Skip Cemetery Visit,” the headline read, above a 26-paragraph story in which Trump’s actions were confined entirely to Twitter.
Today, the Washington Post moved a little closer to the Los Angeles Times, devoting a story to Trump’s “five days of fury,” including how “the president told aides he felt disconnected from the action in his suite at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris—even as he consumed countless hours of television news on the trip.” Still, though, the Post treated Trump’s no-show at the French cemetery as a bad logistical decision about the weather, after which he “told aides he thought he looked ‘terrible’ and blamed his chief of staff’s office…for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare.”
If that were the case, one logical way for the president to recover from the misstep would have been for him to show up at Arlington National Cemetery two days later, for Veterans Day. But the Post doesn’t mention Trump’s empty holiday schedule, let alone connect it to the spectacle of him traveling all the way to France only to huddle indoors and watch TV. Presidential dysfunction is a story the press is prepared to tell. A non-functioning president is still too much to grasp.