It was a truly bizarre speech that sounded as if he were still a candidate whipping up the crowd at a campaign rally in the heartland - and not President of the United States addressing hundreds of CIA employees.
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Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness ramblings proved once again that the presidency had not changed him at all, for those who hadn’t gathered this from his dark and dystopic inaugural speech.
It was chilling that the message Trump chose to send to the intelligence community on his first day as president featured two enemies which he seemed to despise on an equal level - ISIS and the media. The party that he said he had a “running war” with, wasn’t the Islamic State, however, but the press, whom he called "among the most dishonest human beings on earth."
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What was the media’s great sin? Not wreaking death and destruction but underreporting the size crowd who came to pay tribute to him at his inauguration. Trump angrily challenged the crowd estimates of 250,000 - instead, asserting that between a million and a million and half came to the National Mall to see him take the oath of office. He made no mention, of course, of the millions of women who took to the streets across the country to express their disapproval of him and protest his statements, behavior, and the direction of his policies.
Trump also blamed the press for the bad blood between himself and his audience, saying that they unfairly “made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.” He said that the situation was “exactly the opposite” and that the press “knew that, too.” His astonishing implication seemed to be was that the media was somehow deliberately trying to fuel tensions between the President of the United States and the CIA.
Presumably, his audience was able to remember that Trump has, in fact struck out at the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community several times in past weeks over their findings that Russian hacking interfered with the presidential campaign. Since he did it in his own words Twitter, not through the filter of the “dishonest human beings” in the media, it is rather incredible that he blamed them for the conflict.
Just as he did in his inauguration speech, Trump repeated the words “radical Islamic terrorism” multiple times, as if to make up for all of the times that former-President Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton refrained from using them. Obama and Clinton both explained that they had done so because they had been told that if the United States was perceived as being at war with all of Islam, it would be harmful to America's strategic interests and make terror attacks more, not less, likely Presumably, none of that bothers Trump, who, going the extra mile, called ISIS “evil” that had to be “eradicated off the face of the earth.”
In front of a crowd of CIA agents who presumably value discretion, Trump, after a long digression on how young he feels, threw the doors open on the process of vetting his cabinet choices when he told them that was seeing “six or seven” for each post, but that when he met prospective CIA chief, he knew he didn’t need to see any other candidate: “I met Mike Pompeo and I said ‘cancel everyone else.’
He had to talk up the prospective CIA chef in his absence because Pompeo has not yet won Senate confirmation. Originally, the visit had been scheduled to present Pompeo to the agency, but that plan was stymied by the fact that he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
Trump attributed the delay to the fact that the senators were playing “little political games with me,” appearing to resent the fact of the confirmation.
The only thing more disturbing than Trump’s remarks, which journalists, pundits and general observers quickly took to social media to call “”shocking,” “disgusting” “insane” and full of “bragging and whining” and full of “imagined persecution” was the fact that his remarks met with applause from the CIA staffers.
Trump himself was clearly pleased by the approbation, however, and took his charm offensive a step further to extreme flattery in what looked like an effort to smooth over any suspicions that he could be in cahoots with Russia.
“I’m sure everyone in this room voted for me,” Trump said confidently, joking, “don’t worry, I’m not going to make you raise your hand.” He promised the CIA staffers that “We’re on the same wavelength” and that he was with them “1,000 percent” and that “I respect you and I love you.”
When he first introduced Trump, Vice President Mike Pence said the new commander-in-chief was “a strategic thinker” who would “make America safe again.”
It is very difficult to imagine that anyone who listened to the speech that followed Pence's hopeful introduction could truly believe that.