Critic's Notebook: President Trump Doubles Down on Divisiveness in ABC Interview

Martin H. Simon/ABC

Anyone looking for a more nuanced Trump was left sorely disappointed by his ABC interview.

As if the disturbing events of the last week weren’t enough, Donald Trump’s first interview since his inauguration provided definitive proof of one thing: Being the president of the United States is not an effective cure for narcissistic personality disorder.

Anyone who had expected Trump to develop nuance upon becoming the leader of the free world has now come to the horrible realization that it isn’t going to happen. The man speaking with ABC’s David Muir was the same Trump from the campaign trail. His supporters, those “forgotten people” he keeps using as a talking point, are no doubt thrilled. And everyone else is feeling a sudden need to wear Depends.

When asked if he thought the presidency would change him, Trump replied, “I don’t want to change too much.” There’s certainly no danger of that. He boasted, “I can be the most presidential person ever, other than, maybe, the great Abe Lincoln.” It was a generous allowance, and now we know that he already places himself above Washington, Jefferson, FDR, Truman and Reagan. He may be onto something though. Like his idol Lincoln, he may soon be leading the country through a civil war. It almost makes you wonder if that’s his plan.

If you were looking for any backtracking, any thoughtful explanations of how he might have been misconstrued, you were left sorely disappointed. He doubled down on every controversial position, including his ridiculous assertion that millions of people had voted fraudulently.

“You look at the dead people who are registered to vote. You look at the people who are registered to vote in two states. People are registered in New York and New Jersey. They vote twice,” he declared. “We’re going to launch an investigation to find out.”  

(Among the people he’s talking about are Steven Mnuchin, Steve Bannon, and his own daughter Tiffany, all of whom are registered to vote in two states. So he knows what he’s talking about. But he should also realize that if there were massive voting fraud going on, he would never have been elected.)

As expected, Trump had no apologies about his disgustingly self-aggrandizing speech at the CIA: “That speech was a home run. If you look at Fox, … see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches.”

“There was love in the room,” he cooed, his peacock feathers expanding. “You and the other networks covered it very inaccurately. Turn on Fox and see how it was covered.” Nice to know that we have a new national television news station.

Apparently, he meant Chicago when he talked about “American carnage” in his inauguration speech. “It’s carnage, it’s horrible carnage,” he said about the embattled city, demonstrating his need for a thesaurus. “Afghanistan is not like what’s happening in Chicago.”

Asked about his tweet in which he said he would “send in the feds,” Trump replied, “I will send in what we have to send in. Maybe they won’t have to be so politically correct. Chicago is like a war zone.” So it turns out we’re getting to the martial law phase of his presidency sooner than later.

Torture is also back on the table, reversing his previous position that was a reversal of his position before that.

“We have to fight fire with fire,” Trump argued. “I have spoken, as recently as 24 hours ago, with people in the highest level of intelligence, and I asked them the question, does torture work? And the answer was, yes, absolutely.” His own defense secretary, James Mattis, has said that beer and cigarettes were more effective in getting information. Apparently, prisoners will now get to enjoy those only after they’re tortured.

Muir asked Trump how he felt upon receiving the nuclear codes.

“It is a very sobering moment, yes,” Trump said. “Very scary.” Indeed.

As evidenced by his executive actions earlier in the day, Trump intends to follow through on his promise to suspend immigration “Our country has enough problems without allowing people to come in who have, in many cases, or in some cases, evil intentions. I don’t want that. I’m going to be the president of a safe country,” Trump thundered.

“The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. The world is an angry place. The world is a total mess. The world is a mess, David,” Trump said robotically, sounding like a Westworld android suffering a chip malfunction.

Trump seemed unconcerned about the critics who say that his position about taking Iraq’s oil is a violation of international law. “I don’t call them critics, I call them fools,” he hissed. “If we had taken the oil, we wouldn’t have ISIS.” As for whether he plans to seize the oil in the future, Trump would only say, “We’re gonna see what happens.” For him, war, like everything else, is merely the opportunity for a juicy cliffhanger.

If you’re one of the roughly 18 million people threatened with losing health insurance when the Affordable Care Act gets repealed, the Great and Powerful Oz — I mean Trump — assured you that you have nothing to worry about. He reiterated his brave position that “I want to make sure that nobody’s dying in the streets while I’m president.”

No details were provided, of course, other than his strangely sexual-sounding promise, “I want to give great health care.”

Millions of people protested in the streets of America and around the world the day after the inauguration, but Trump, speaking both literally and figuratively, told Muir, “I couldn’t hear them.” He displayed his usual sympathy for anyone who doesn’t love him by pointing out, “We just had an election a few weeks ago.”

If President Obama was watching (and really, who could blame him if he wasn’t?), he would have been surprised to learn that Trump thinks that the two of them have “sort of a great relationship.” Obviously, the Vulcan Mind Meld worked.

When Muir pointed out that the Dow had reached the historic 20,000 mark that day, Trump said proudly, “It’s gone up a lot since I won.” (Insert your own joke here).

As the interview was reaching its conclusion, Trump proudly showed off a large photograph of his inauguration. “This crowd was massive! Look how far back it goes!” he exulted. “I call it a sea of love!”

And thanks to his rollback of environmental protections, it’s going to be a very murky sea indeed.