Fabiola Santiago

From Obama to Trump, tone of U.S. presidency takes a dive

The autocrat and the whiner both showed up for Donald Trump’s first official press conference.

Sometimes, both were contained in one Trump sentence.

“No, not you, your organization is terrible,” the president-elect said to the CNN correspondent in the front row trying to ask him a question.

Trump had followed Vice President-elect Mike Pence to the podium.

Pence, too, used his introductory remarks as an opportunity to blast on live television not the fringes of journalism, but “some in the mainstream media,” which in his view have made “a concerted effort” to “delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration.”

“The American people are sick and tired of it,” said Pence, who can be scarier than Trump. The two of them together bashing one of the pillars of our democratic system made my head spin with déjà vu. They remind me of the tag team of brothers ruling in the Caribbean for decades.

Pence’s tough talk was the perfect segue for Trump to continue the barrage of media criticism. Quite the strategic way to begin a relationship, getting ahead of probing questions by intimidating reporters from the acquired post of the highest office in the land. Then, he threw a bone. He stopped giving press conferences, Trump said, “because of inaccurate news.” But the coverage of the latest scandal to envelop him — “so professional” — had made what he thinks of us rise “a notch.”

Trump was referring to allegations contained in the memos of a retired British intelligence officer claiming that Russia may have compromising videos of Trump defiling the presidential suite where his nemesis, President Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, had stayed in Moscow. Most media organizations didn’t carry the allegations, contained in intelligence papers delivered to Trump, because they surfaced as opposition research and couldn’t be confirmed.

Trump vehemently denied this ever happened, saying he was well aware of cameras being everywhere. He traveled with a large entourage and was always careful. Then, he added that the act he’s accused of, which entailed bodily fluids being spread, couldn’t have happened.

“I’m almost very much a germaphobe,” he offered as a defense.

That has got to be the oddest thing a president has ever revealed in his first presidential press conference.

And it was only the beginning.

Most of Trump’s animated personas — the hyperbolic, the vocabulary-challenged, the self-congratulatory — were on display Wednesday, along with a choir of staff members he brought to play the role of the cheering crowds on the campaign trail.

“We have a movement, a movement that the world has never seen before!”

He called surrounding himself with generals, Latin America-style, “the greatest Cabinet ever put together.”

His staff clapped repeatedly for Pence and Trump, and to the television viewer, it looked like journalists were applauding the new leadership. Again, very odd. Demonstrating approval of leaders is what journalists are expected to do in dictatorships where the media is not a watchdog but a lapdog of government.

“We’re going to build a wall,” he reiterated. And sure, Mexico is going to pay for it in “a tax or a payment” — which the Mexican president wasted no time denying.

He’s also building a wall between his presidency and his company, the attorney who structured the business agreement said.

To quell the concerns of ethicists who’ve been saying he needs to divest of his company to avoid conflicts of interests, not only at home but around the world, Trump announced that he’s turning over the Trump organization to his sons.

Not that he has to do that, as presidents are exempt from rules governing conflicts of interests, he noted. But he wants to be magnanimous. And hey, by the way, he just turned down a $2 billion deal from Saudi Arabia “with a great guy.”

But perhaps most apropos to this show-business presidency was the press conference’s ending.

You better do a good job, he told sons Don and Eric, or “you’re fired!”

And those were the last words Trump uttered as he walked off stage.

Still the showman, still the insecure bully on the playground.

Donald Trump still doesn’t understand that he’s days away from being inaugurated the 45th president of the United States of America and he needs to play the role of respected world leader.

What a contrast to President Barack Obama, who at his farewell this same week — and throughout his presidency — displayed class, heart and inspirational eloquence.

In tone, certainly, the U.S. presidency has taken a dive.

Related stories from Miami Herald