Donald Trump does not like to be challenged.
With the help of a laudatory media, he has run his own family business as a virtual kingdom for decades. In his first two years in the White House, Trump has lashed out whenever he’s criticized, even when it’s by US allies, fellow Republicans, or his own appointees.
His 90-minute press conference in the East Room yesterday (Nov. 7) set a new standard for angry, threatening behavior for a US president. He shouted at reporters including CNN’s Jim Acosta, said he would virtually shut down the government if investigated by Congress, scoffed at the idea of voter suppression in states like Georgia, and accused an African-American reporter of asking a “racist” question for asking him about racism.
Soon after the show, attorney general Jeff Sessions was forced out, to be replaced by a Iowa attorney general who made a television career out of explaining why special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign should be shut down. Thousands of Americans are expected to protest the apparent interference into the investigation at 5pm US eastern time today (Nov. 8).
In the hours after the chaotic news conference, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it would yank Acosta’s permanent press pass for “assaulting” a White House intern who tried to grab his microphone during the press conference, an accusation that video of the incident refutes. Then Sanders circulated a clip of the incident sourced from conspiracy-theorist website Infowars, that video editors claim was doctored to make Acosta look more aggressive.
For Americans (or anyone else) trying to keep track, this is absolute, gut-churning chaos—and that’s just the way that the Trump White House wants it. In fact, the past 24 hours are a good window into things to come for the next two years, as Trump is challenged in new ways.
Democrats won control of the House of Representatives on Nov. 6, led by a group of progressive women, many of them minorities, who pledge to investigate the administration’s alleged corruption, security breaches, and ethics lapses. It’s going to be a big shift from the Republican-controlled House and Senate during his first two years in office; Republicans mostly voted in lockstep with Trump’s propositions, shuttered investigations into potential wrongdoing, and shrugged off his erratic behavior.
The media, Democratic lawmakers, and “never-Trump” Republicans who criticize the president are already a familiar punching bag for the White House. But it’s a new ballgame now. The administration’s actions are about to be challenged by an arm of Congress bristling with women, some of whom ran on taking on Trump, with the full power of the US Constitution behind them to call his appointees into hearings and subpoena documents.
Challenge Trump and he “hits back harder,” as his advisors like to say. He’s shown a pattern of being particularly belligerent when challenged by women, and women of color.
His angry, attention-seeking reaction to questions and challenges during the press conference adds fuel to a popular theory among psychology experts that he’s a pathological narcissist, someone whose deep-seated insecurities are covered over by a thin veneer of spite and arrogance.
It’s going to be a long two years until the next presidential election.