President Donald Trump has a particular, head-scratching talent for creating controversies that are both unnecessary and divisive. The President’s recent insulting tweet about the intelligence of LeBron James is a classic example of a problematic character trait that just won’t go away.
In case you missed it, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed LeBron James about a school James established for underprivileged children in Akron, Ohio at which every student receives free tuition, food, a uniform, and a bicycle. It’s a classic example of James’ continuing focus on his old home town and using his celebrity platform, and his own money, to help those in need. Even Cleveland sports fans who are disappointed that James has decided to play in Los Angeles respect his commitment to his roots in northern Ohio.
So where does the President come in? Apparently he was miffed that James, who was an outspoken supporter of Hilary Clinton during the last campaign, responded to a silly question from Lemon by saying he might have to run if there was no one else to oppose President Trump. That evidently was too much for our thin-skinned President, who then tweeted: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
The silly question and answer provides no basis for insulting the intelligence of either LeBron James — whose public statements, whether about sports or other topics, are typically careful and thoughtful — or Don Lemon. And the President’s ad hominem attack provoked many athletes, as well as First Lady Melania Trump, to make statements supporting James. It’s just the latest example of how our touchy President’s inability to restrain himself produces another gratuitous, divisive controversy.
I’m not sure President Trump really takes advice from anyone, but you’d think someone could convince him to put down the Twitter feed for once and just let the economy do the talking.
One of the most curious aspects of the first few days of the Trump Administration is the little dust-up about the size of the crowd at the new President’s inauguration. Trump thinks the news media has intentionally underestimated the crowd to try to make him look less popular than he really is; the news media points to photos of the National Mall that indicate that the inaugural crowd was not as big as the crowd for the Women’s March the next day or the crowd for the Obama inauguration in 2009.
It’s a weird story, because no one really should care about the size of the crowd. It’s an insignificant fact that has no lasting impact on the new President or the country. No historian includes size of inaugural crowd as one of the factors used in ranking our Presidents from best to worst.
So why does Trump care about something that would otherwise be quickly and forever flushed down the memory hole? I think it’s because he’s someone who’s convinced of his popularity — he just won the election, after all — and he’s a bit thin-skinned about suggestions that he’s not as popular as he thinks he is. That’s why he’s struggling to let it go, and also keeps bringing up the claim that he would have won the overall popular vote if millions of purportedly illegal voters hadn’t cast their ballots. Trump denies that he’s thin-skinned, of course, but the reaction to the inaugural crowd reports make it difficult to agree with his self-assessment.
I think this is one of the areas where Trump’s lack of a political career has had a real effect. Most career politicians have gotten used to absorbing the slings and arrows of outrageous statements after a few years in the political arena. By the time they get to the point of running for president, they’ve developed an outer coating tougher than a rhinoceros hide that allows them to slough off criticism. But Trump hasn’t had that experience, and hasn’t developed that protective layer that allows him to ignore the slights and the barbs.
Trump presumably will develop a thick skin soon; it’s hard to imagine you could be President for long without it. The concern for me is whether political opponents or foreign leaders will see Trump’s apparent hypersensitivity as an opportunity to be exploited: can they goad our touchy President into taking a reckless step by playing to his pride and ego? That’s why I’m hoping Mr. Trump stops worrying about crowd size — at least publicly — and starts to show that he’s not troubled by the little things.