February 1, 2017
Trump is the worst kind of awkward
by Kait Howard
While Donald Trump’s reaction to a question posed by a BBC journalist during his press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last Friday, and its alternate interpretations in the media, were hardly surprising, they offer another good example of the president’s awkwardness in his new role.
As Sirena Bergman at Forbes reported, journalist Laura Kuenssberg seemed to throw Trump off guard by asking how he could respond to British people unhappy with his positions on a number of issues:
“Mr. President, you’ve said before that torture works, you’ve praised Russia, you said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America, you’ve said there should be punishment for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views, and are worried about your becoming leader of the free world?”
Trump responded by turning to May and joking, “Well, there goes the relationship.” The joke, referring to May’s opening remarks describing the “special relationship” between Britain the and US, was standard Trump, crassly implying that the relationship they were there to reinforce depends upon journalistic flattery. And while he managed to regain his composure later on, even proceeding to answer part of Kuenssberg’s question, Bergman argues that, given Trump’s near-constant attacks on the media, the threat should be taken seriously.
At the same time, the response underscores Trump’s single-mindedness about the purpose of the press conference itself, a single-mindedness that’s been apparent again and again. He knew he was there to discuss Britain’s relationship with America, so he joked about the relationship, which only betrayed a shallow understanding of the diplomatic role he was supposed to be playing. You can almost feel his distracted brain straining: “Relationship…Here… to… talk… about relationship… America… England.”
The incident recalls Trump’s post-inaugural speech at CIA headquarters, in which he couldn’t help pointing out that he was intentionally making his first stop there. The gesture of friendship, which was clearly intended to make up for his previous criticism of the agency, came off as purely calculated — something his advisors told him he had to do, rather than something more genuine. Which goes to show that Trump isn’t just a shameless crusader against political correctness: he lacks tact even when he wants it, or when it might benefit him.
Although Trump did bother to respond to Kuenssberg’s question about Russia—and by extension, Putin—he did so in the vaguest of terms, saying, “I’ve had many times where I thought I’d get along with people, and I didn’t like them at all… So, Theresa, we never know about those things, do we?”
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.