One of the best moments of Donald Trump’s presidency also could’ve been one of the easiest. All the president had to do was read a straightforward statement – which the White House had 12 hours to prepare – announcing the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS.
The development was unambiguously good news, a boost for U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, and cause for congratulations for all involved. It was also an opportunity for Trump to act like a president, if only for a few minutes, with remarks that could’ve helped define his term.
But as is too often the case, Trump lacked the wherewithal to restrain his worst instincts. During a rambling 48-minute appearance, the Republican used a tone one might expect on a playground; he needlessly shared sensitive operational details; he made multiple canine references for reasons that were not at all clear; he took the time to praise a far-right media network; he made self-aggrandizing claims for no reason; and Trump lied rather brazenly about his own record.
Consider this head-shaking moment, in which the president referred to ISIS leaders:
“You know, these people are very smart. They’re not into the use of cellphones anymore. They’re not – they’re very technically brilliant. You know, they use the Internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump. But they use the Internet incredibly well.
“And what they’ve done with the Internet, through recruiting and everything – and that’s why he died like a dog, he died like a coward.”
You could almost see the wheels turning in Trump’s mind, as he started to marvel at how impressed he was with himself, before realizing that he should at least try to stick to the topic at hand.
After insisting that al-Baghdadi’s death is more significant that Osama bin Laden’s – a dubious assertion, to be sure – viewers were treated to this Trump ridiculous gem:
“You know, if you read my book – there was a book just before the World Trade Center came down. And I don’t get any credit for this, but that’s okay. I never do. But here we are. I wrote a book – a, really, very successful book. And in that book, about a year before the World Trade Center was blown up, I said, ‘There is somebody named Osama bin Laden. You better kill him or take him out.’ Something to that effect. ‘He’s big trouble.’
“Now, I wasn’t in government. I was building buildings and doing what I did. But I always found it fascinating. But I saw this man – tall, handsome, very charismatic – making horrible statements about wanting to destroy our country. And I’m writing a book. I think I wrote 12 books. All did very well. And I’m writing a book. The World Trade Center had not come down. I think it was about – if you check, it was about a year before the World Trade Center came down. And I’m saying to people, ‘Take out Osama bin Laden,’ that nobody ever heard of. Nobody ever heard of. I mean, al-Baghdadi everybody hears because he’s built this monster for a long time. But nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until, really, the World Trade Center.
“But about a year – you’ll have to check – a year, year and a half before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, ‘You have to kill him. You have to take him out.’ Nobody listened to me.
“And to this day, I get people coming up to me, and they said, ‘You know what one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen about you? Is that you predicted that Osama bin Laden had to be killed before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’ It’s true. Now, most of the press doesn’t want to write that, but you know – but it is true. If you go back, look at my book. I think it was ‘The America We Deserve.’ I made a prediction, and I – let’s put it this way: If they would have listened to me, a lot of things would have been different.”
Putting aside questions of propriety – this was not an occasion in which Trump was supposed to talk about how awesome he considers his awesomeness – none of this was even close to being true. Trump’s book made no predictions about bin Laden, who was well known in national security circles long before the publication of his book.
What’s more, the insinuation that 9/11 could’ve been prevented if only more people “would have listened” to Donald Trump was as obscene as it was wrong.
During the same event, the president also once again claimed that he opposed the 2003 Iraq war, which remains one of his favorite lies, despite the fact that the claim has been repeatedly debunked.
The larger concern, however, isn’t that Trump was caught peddling nonsense – an unfortunate daily occurrence – it was the circumstances in which he did so. This was supposed to be a moment of triumph. It could’ve been a unifying moment for the president and his constituents to be proud of.
But as Americans were reminded yesterday, Trump just can’t help himself.