A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
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Trump’s speech to the CIA broke new presidential ground

Updated
For his first major event on his first full day as president, Donald Trump went to the Central Intelligence Agency, which made a fair amount of sense. The new president repeatedly attacked the CIA and the intelligence community before taking the oath of office – two weeks ago, he went so far as to compare them to Nazis – so it stands to reason that Trump would want to invest some energy into undoing the damage he’s done.

But on Saturday, the new president spoke in front of a memorial wall at CIA headquarters and delivered one of the strangest presidential speeches in modern history. Slate’s report captured the flavor nicely:
[The speech began with Trump expressing support for the CIA’s work], but before long, he turned to what remain his favorite topics: himself and the “dishonest media.” He complained that while, as far as he could tell, 1 million to 1.5 million people filled the National Mall to watch his inaugural address, the media reported that just 200,000 turned out for the event. […]

Trump then rambled – as if this were a campaign rally instead of a morale-boosting speech in front of the agency’s most sacred spot – about how smart he is (citing as proof the fact that a brilliant uncle taught at MIT) and about how he’s been on the cover of Time magazine more often than anybody. (In fact, the title is held by Richard Nixon, which says something about what gets a president on a lot of Time magazine covers.)
Watching the speech was surreal, as if the lines between the actual president of the United States and a satirical caricature were effectively blurred out of existence.

In remarks that were supposed to be about the CIA and the intelligence community, Trump found it difficult to stop talking about himself. “They say, ‘Is Donald Trump an intellectual?’” the president asked, quoting no one in particular. “Trust me. I’m, like, a smart person.”

In a relatively brief appearance, he whined incessantly about journalists who told the truth about his inaugural crowd size. Trump pretended he hadn’t feuded with the intelligence community for months. He even credited God for preventing rain at his inauguration, despite the fact that it rained at his inauguration.

And then the new president suggested Americans might need to prepare themselves for another war in the Middle East.

“If we kept the oil [in Iraq], we wouldn’t have had ISIS in the first place,” Trump argued. “The old expression, to the victor belong the spoils…. We should’ve kept the oil. But, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.”

Really? Putting aside the fact that pillaging is a war crime, when exactly might we have “another chance” to steal another country’s oil supplies?

Taken together, on the first full day of the Trump era, the new president stood in front of a memorial to fallen officials, whined bitterly about journalists, lied about his inauguration, bragged about his suspect intellect, and hinted at a possible future invasion.

I don’t think there’s ever been a presidential speech quite like this one. It sounded a bit like Nixon on the Oval Office audio recordings that were eventually released to the public, but at least in his case, Nixon had the sense to make ridiculous comments in private, not in front of cameras and a CIA audience.

Postscript: In a tweet yesterday, Trump added, “Had a great meeting at CIA Headquarters yesterday, packed house, paid great respect to Wall, long standing ovations, amazing people. WIN!” What matters in the president’s mind, of course, is whether he received applause at a well-attended appearance.

Second postscript: The DNC’s statement on Trump’s speech was notable: “After he finished ranting about crowd sizes on the National Mall, I hope President Trump sat down for an interview with the CIA to help with their investigation into his team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to win the election. Next, he can sit down with the FBI who have sought warrants to monitor his team for the same reason.”


CIA and Donald Trump

Trump's speech to the CIA broke new presidential ground

Updated