Just nine days before becoming Leader of the Free World, President-elect Donald Trump wasn’t talking about economic policy. He wasn’t talking about global security or how he plans to improve the welfare of nearly 319 million Americans.
Instead, he kept cozying up to a dictator, scorned a free press and the idea of government transparency and upped the ante in his ongoing beef with the nation’s intelligence community.
Welcome to the circus - and to America’s new normal: A vain, combative and self-involved leader who’s given to referring to himself in the third person, name-dropping all the people who like him, and who thinks no story - the one about himself - is more important to the civic life of the nation.
In his first news conference since the election, Trump, the incoming chief executive, sounded a lot like candidate Trump, reiterating pledges to build a border wall on America’s southern border (and to make Mexico implausibly pay for it); to be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created” and to simultaneously repeal and replace Obamacare - without offering any clue on how that might happen or what might replace it.
The ostensible purpose of the 90-minute news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan was to discuss how Trump plans to disentangle himself from his myriad of business interests and turn the day-to-day management of them over to his sons.
But surprising no one, it was hijacked by the bombshell news Tuesday that Trump had been told about an uncorroborated report that the Russian government holds compromising information on him.
Trump denounced the release of the report “as a disgrace,” calling BuzzFeed.com, the online news organization that made the controversial decision to publish it “a failing pile of garbage” that will “suffer the consequences” for running the dossier of allegations claimed to have come from a former British intelligence officer.
Comparing the leak to “something Nazi Germany would have done,” Trump used a Russian government statement to defend himself against the allegations included in the dossier.
Russian “President [Vladimir] Putin put out a statement today that this fake news was fake news,” Trump said, gobsmackingly adding that he “respected” the Russian government for that action.
Backhandedly, he also credited some news organizations for deciding against running it.
“They looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they did that,” Trump said, keeping up his ongoing and very public dispute with the nation’s intelligence community. “A thing like that should never have been written and it certainly should have not been released.”
In what may have been his strongest language to date, Trump mildly scolded Putin for the hacking, saying he “shouldn’t do it.” But he stopped well short of an outright condemnation.
“I think it was Russia, But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” he said, referencing the 2015 cyber-attack on the federal Office of Personnel Management that compromised the identities of 22.1 million people.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, Trump continued to speak warmly of an ex-KGB thug backing Bashar Assad in Syria, saying that “if Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset not a liability.
“I hope I get along with Vladimir Putin,” said Trump, who actually praised the information about Hillary Clinton brought to light by an act of cyber-terrorism by a hostile foreign government.
“If I don’t do you honestly believe Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anyone believe that? Give me a break,” he bragged.
The bravura performance was interrupted halfway through by a long monologue by Trump’s attorney, Sheri Dillon, who offered tortured explanation of how Trump will disentangle himself from his business dealings.
In short, he’ll turn his companies over to his sons, but won’t totally divest himself of them.
Incredibly, Trump still doesn’t seem to think that the inevitable conflicts arising from such an action are what they are: A looming minefield of scandal and corruption.
“I could run my business and run the government at the same time,” he said. “I’d be the only one who could do that.”
Then, just for good measure, he picked a fight with CNN’s Jim Acosta, refusing to take the reporter’s questions and dismissing the cable network as “fake news,” even though it did not publish the intelligence dossier.
Taken together, Trump’s public statements at his first news conference in 168 days clearly signaled how he intends to govern: It’s not about the voters. It’s not about accountability. It’s all about him.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com