Washington (AFP) – After a turbulent four weeks as president of the United States, Donald Trump’s frustration finally burst out.
The stately walls of the East Room trembled Thursday as the 45th president unleashed a torrent of words, attacking in turn the media, the judiciary and Democrats he accused of undermining his presidency.
76-minute news conference in which he was in turns angry, defensive, playful, boastful and introspective.
During the rambling to and fro — marked by rowdy, virulent exchanges unprecedented in such a setting — Trump raised the specter of, among other things, a “nuclear holocaust.”
More than once he appeared visibly pained at the media portrayal of himself, and his administration as mired in chaos.
More than once, he seemed on the verge of losing control.
Trump insisted his administration was “running like a fine-tuned machine,” despite the catalogue of disarray that has defined its early weeks.
By any measure, the political novice’s first steps as head of state have been troubled: millions took to the streets in protest the day after his inauguration, his flagship travel ban has been frozen by the courts and his national security advisor was forced to resign.
But Trump pushed back hard — saying he had inherited a “mess,” listing the decrees signed since taking office, claiming no presidency had ever done so much in such a short time, and turning his guns on his old foe, the media.
“The people get it, much of the media doesn’t get it.
They actually get it, but they don’t write it,” he said.
The charge was made brutally, angrily at times.
The aim was clear: to bypass the press and speak directly to the people who brought him to power.
“I’m making this presentation directly to the American people… because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve,” he said.
– ‘Sit down!’ –
Accusing the media of a “level of dishonesty (that) is out of control,” he took up the themes that excited his supporters on the campaign trail, lambasting America’s coastal elites as living in a bubble far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans.
“Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington DC, along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system,” he said, forefinger raised aloft.
“I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people,” he said later on.
“The press — the public doesn’t believe you people anymore.”
To one journalist trying to ask a follow-up question he barked “Sit down!.” Another was told to be “quiet.”
Bombarded with questions about his team’s links to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, and possible contacts during the campaign with Russian intelligence agencies, Trump declared: “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
“The leaks are absolutely real.
The news is fake because so much of the news is fake,” he said of the avalanche of revelations painting an increasingly troubling picture of his entourage’s connections with the Kremlin.
One reporter asked how, if Trump acknowledged that information was indeed being leaked, the resulting news could be fake?
It was the “tone” of the reporting, Trump replied, denouncing the “hate” he says he faces from the media — while singling out Fox News, the conservative television network, as an exception.
Several times the leader of the world’s most powerful country took liberties with historical fact, at one point claiming to have won the biggest electoral college victory since Ronald Reagan.
When a journalist pointed out that this was inaccurate, he replied, half-stammering, “I don’t know, I was given that information.”
– ‘Not a bad person’ –
“I won. I won,” he repeated later, as if in rebuke to his critics, launching into a lengthy aside on an old controversy over one of his campaign debates with Hillary Clinton.
“I’m really not a bad person, by the way,” he told the gathering, in between barbs aimed at Obama staffers who he appeared to blame for spreading “fake news.”
“This isn’t Donald Trump that divided a nation,” he said.
“We lived in a divided nation.”
However much he likes to dismiss opinion polls, Trump — like his predecessors — keeps a close eye on them. And his numbers are not looking good.
According to a Pew Research Center poll published Thursday, his popularity after a month in office is lower than that enjoyed by any of the last five occupants of the Oval Office — Republicans and Democrats alike.
Just 39 percent of Americans surveyed approved of his performance as president, with 56 disapproving.
On Saturday Trump will hold a campaign-style rally in Orlando, Florida, where he hopes — for a few hours at least — to relive some of the enthusiasm that swept him into the White House.
But there will doubtless be a hint of nostalgia, too, and a sense that while Trump the showman loved the battle for power, he has so far struggled to find his pace, and tone in the exercise of it.