President Trump addresses rally in Harrisburg, PA on April 29, 2017. Screenshot from NBCNews.
Screenshot from NBCNews.

On his 100th day, Donald Trump remembers ‘The Snake’

On this 100th day as president, Donald Trump hosted the latest in a series of campaign-style rallies, delivering red-meat remarks to an audience in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  David Gergen called it “the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting American president,” which seemed fair, though not especially surprising.

It was, to a very real extent, a throwback to 2016. Trump condemned journalists and American news organizations; the crowd wanted to “lock up” Hillary Clinton; and the audience was treated to a series of obvious falsehoods. My personal favorite was Trump’s claim that there were many people outside the venue, eager to get in, but who couldn’t enter because he’d broken the record for the largest audience to ever attend an event there. In reality, there were plenty of empty seats.

But the Washington Post took note of the portion of the speech that struck me as important.
He returned to some of his campaign favorites – reading the poem “The Snake” (“Does anybody want to hear it again?” he said to resounding cheers), a parable about the dangers of inviting in a stranger whose bite turns out to be poisonous.

The crowd loved it. The president loved it.
Ah yes, Al Wilson’s “The Snake.” If you never saw a Trump stump speech before the election, you may not appreciate just how much the Republican enjoys reading – indeed, performing – the parable.

The story is simple: a “tender woman” rescues a “vicious snake,” who repays her generosity by biting her. When the dying woman asks why, the snake explains with a grin, “Oh shut up, silly woman. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

As the Washington Examiner noted, “During the campaign, Trump regularly recited the poem as a cautionary tale against allowing Syrian refugees to take advantage of American generosity.” And while that certainly explains the president’s fascination with the parable, it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how perfect it was to hear Trump return to the ballad while reflecting on his presidency.

The idea that Syrian refugees, fleeing ISIS and the Assad regime’s brutality, represent the snake is ridiculous, and by any decent standard, offensive. But what’s lost on Trump is the degree to which the story captures the absurdities of his own presidency.

Vox’s Ezra Klein had a great piece along these lines back in January, just 10 days after Trump’s inauguration.
Those who confidently told the country to take Trump seriously but not literally should be ashamed of themselves. Those who rationalized their support by assuming staff would rein him in, or the Oval Office would humble him, have been proven wrong.

There is nothing Trump has done that should surprise. His policies have aligned with his promises. His actions have aligned with his history. His conspiracy theories, his thin skin, his strange obsessions, his impulsive behavior, his poor management, his bizarre tweets – all of it was present in his campaign too…. All of this was predictable. We knew damn well what Trump was when we took him in.
I feel like it’s only a matter of time before the president, asked about how weak public standing and Americans’ discomfort with his inability to do the job he was elected to do, declares with pride, “Oh shut up, silly country. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”