Today (Jan. 20) is the two-year mark for US president Donald Trump’s administration. While some hoped that the trappings of the White House might soften Trump’s rougher, bombastic qualities, the isolation of the presidency seems to have only heightened them.
Trump began the 2019 new year amid a partial government shutdown with a cabinet meeting on Jan. 2. Journalists covering the meeting noted that sitting on the table in front of Trump was a poster with an image of the president, superimposed with the words “Sanctions Are Coming,” a play on the phrase “Winter Is Coming” from the HBO show Game of Thrones. It was a printed-out version of an image that Trump tweeted the previous November, in reference to sanctions against Iran the administration was reinstating. It was a truly puzzling moment (paywall). Cabinet members and White House staff offered little explanation on why he made the poster front and center for the meeting.
Last week, Trump decided to welcome the NCAA football champions, the Clemson Tigers, to the White House amidst a partial government shutdown. Since the kitchen staff was furloughed, Trump decided to order out a food court’s worth of burgers, fries, and pizza.
The Trump administration has been criticized for its weak response to the destruction wrought on Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Congressional Democrats are looking to investigate exactly what happened. The president has deflected the blame onto local officials and the fact that Puerto Rico is an island. Photos of Trump tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of hurricane victims, when the president visited Puerto Rico days after the disaster, made it seem like he did not understand the severity of the situation.
At the outset of his administration, Trump attempted to bring in voices from outside the traditional Washington media circles. That often took the form of allowing partisan broadcasters and media personalities to Skype in and ask questions. And then there were the less expected voices. In August 2017, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a letter from 10-year-old Frank Giaccio, who asked if he could mow the White House lawn. He was allowed to do so, and the pictures from the photo-op, perhaps originally conceived to make the president look like he’s encouraging youthful entrepreneurship, instead appear surreal.
Trump’s handshake power-plays are well documented. While some have recoiled, France’s Emmanuel Macron has seized the opportunity to play Trump’s game on several occasions.
On Aug. 21, 2017, millions in the US celebrated a total solar eclipse, a wholesome, once-in-a-lifetime astrological event. In the weeks and months leading up to it, Americans had been warned repeatedly to not stare directly at the sun and instead to look at it through special glasses. Leave it to the leader of the free world to throw caution to the wind: After looking at it briefly with eclipse glasses on, Trump stole one fleeting, unmediated glance at the sun.
While attending the North Korea-US peace summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018, Trump saluted one of Kim Jong Un’s generals. Pyongyang used the footage the next day in a state-media film summarizing the meeting.
During a March 23, 2017 event at the White House with representatives of the trucking industry, Trump excitedly jumped aboard a big black truck. The resulting onslaught of jokes might have made the president, or his staff, rethink hauling out big trucks to the south lawn of the White House for the foreseeable future, but a similar moment happened months later when he boarded a fire engine during an event promoting US-made goods.
Who can forget the Orb? During Trump’s visit to the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology in Riyadh with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Trump placed his hands on a gleaming white globe that invited confusion and in turn, memes. We still don’t know what powers were unleashed, but the Orb knows. We will await the Orb’s instructions.