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Donald Trump tried to show you he’s sane and stable. His week became a running fiasco

The president's Tuesday attempt to demonstrate he is sane and stable gave way to a running four-day fiasco, Daniel Dale writes.

U.S. President Donald Trump boards Marine One en route to Florida at the end a tumultuous week Friday.

NYT / Al Drago

U.S. President Donald Trump boards Marine One en route to Florida at the end a tumultuous week Friday.

On Tuesday — does anyone remember Tuesday? — Donald Trump tried to demonstrate that he is sane and stable.

An explosive new book had called into question his mental fitness, so the president had a showman’s brainwave. He would throw open the doors to a private meeting on immigration, letting television cameras capture him in command, at length, at his familiar spot at the centre of a boardroom table.

The plan didn’t go perfectly. Trump was vague and contradictory. He did not seem to understand policy terminology, much less policy itself.

But he was involved and subdued, and if it seemed that the country was being run by an ignoramus, it did not seem obvious, in those 55 minutes at least, that it was being run by someone unhinged. He got the usual praise from television pundits eager to find something nice to say.

Then came Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Within 60 hours of the Trump’s self-described “performance” at the immigration meeting, the wheels had fallen off. As so often with this president, a brief stab at model behaviour was immediately followed by an eruption of his worst traits.

“Watching people lower the bar on his first meeting, the willingness of a lot of people in the media to say, ‘Well OK he at least looked coherent; he was ignorant and uninformed but at least he didn’t do the crazy uncle routine’ — the phrase going through my head the whole time was: give it a day,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative MSNBC analyst and a Trump critic. “How many times have we gone through this? This whiplash: these little windows where he behaves himself, and there’s always an expiration date. And it comes very quickly.”

There was the racism: Trump set off yet another international incident with yet another bigoted remark about immigrants. At a White House meeting on Thursday, he asked why the U.S. needs to take immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. Though he issued a vague and narrow Friday denial, saying he had not been derogatory toward Haitians, senators in attendance confirmed the reports were correct.

A wax model of Trump from Madame Tussaud's outside the new U.S. Embassy in London on Friday. Trump blamed previous president Barack Obama's

Leon Neal/Getty Images

A wax model of Trump from Madame Tussaud's outside the new U.S. Embassy in London on Friday. Trump blamed previous president Barack Obama's "bad" embassy deal as his reason for cancelling an upcoming London visit. The deal actually happened under George W. Bush.

There was the narcissism: Trump spent a startlingly large chunk of a Wall Street Journal interview lavishing over-the-top praise on himself — hailing his intelligence (“I’m smarter than all of them put together”), business acumen (“I created maybe the greatest brand”), debating record (“I don’t think you’ll find one poll that I ever lost in any of the 14, 15 debates”), even his athletic prowess (“I was always the best athlete, people don’t know that”).

There was the impulsiveness-ignorance combo: Trump, who begins most weekdays tweeting responses to the fawning Fox News show Fox and Friends, alarmed his party by confusedly repeating a Fox guest’s criticism of surveillance legislation for which his White House was lobbying in favour. House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to spend a frantic half-hour explaining the legislation to the president over the phone, the Washington Post reported. After 101 minutes, Trump tweeted a second tweet to declare that he actually supported the bill he had mocked.

There was the thin skin: Trump announced, in a tweet just before midnight on Thursday, that he had cancelled his planned visit to London, where he was likely to face protests.

There was the obsession with his predecessor: Trump implausibly claimed he was calling off the trip because he opposes Barack Obama’s sale of the U.S. embassy in an upscale London neighbourhood. In fact, it was George W. Bush’s administration that decided to move the embassy, largely for security reasons.

There was the obsession with his defeated opponent: At a Wednesday news conference with the prime minister of Norway, Trump twice brought up Hillary Clinton without direct prompting. He disparaged Clinton again on Twitter on Thursday morning, then in the interview soon afterward.

There, as always, was the incessant dishonesty: Trump made at least 10 false claims, on subjects running the gamut from the size of trade deficits to the size of his victory in the Electoral College. During a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump lied that “a lot” of television anchors sent him “letters” to tell him his immigration meeting was "one of the greatest meetings they've ever witnessed.”

Pressed for evidence, the White House released a list of complimentary tweets, not letters, from journalists who are not anchors.

The rolling fiasco overshadowed what could, for any other president, have been an upbeat week. U.S. stock markets continued to set new records. Big companies continued to announce raises and bonuses they attributed to Trump’s tax reform law. Trump reassured business groups nervous about rumours that he was imminently planning to begin the process of withdrawing from NAFTA.

Trump could not even recite a basic speech without raising eyebrows. In a surreal coincidence, Trump held a White House event on Friday to sign a proclamation for Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By then, it sounded hypocritical for him to merely read generic words about racial harmony from a prepared text.

“Today,” he said, “we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear: that no matter what the colour of our skin, or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.”

He left the Roosevelt Room as reporters shouted questions about the “s---hole” remarks and his history of racism. And the news cycle spun onward: the African Union demanded a retraction, Democrats announced they would introduce a censure resolution, NBC released a story about Trump making uncomfortable remarks to a Korean-American government expert and to Black legislators …

Youdelyn Momperemier, centre, orginally from Haiti, becomes an American citizen during a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Hialeah, Fla., on Friday.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Youdelyn Momperemier, centre, orginally from Haiti, becomes an American citizen during a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Hialeah, Fla., on Friday.

Only at 3 p.m. did Trump get a brief break from talk about his racism.

The bad news: it was because people started talking about his alleged relationship with a porn star.

The Wall Street Journal published an article that said Trump’s lawyer had made a $130,000 payment to an adult-film actress, Stephanie Clifford, a month before the Nov. 2016 election, to secure her silence about a sexual encounter Trump had with her in 2006, the year after he married Melania Trump.

Clifford denied she had received “hush money,” and the story felt more comical than explosive. By that point in the week, a tale about an adultering president paying off a sex performer who goes by the name Stormy Daniels seemed quaint.

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