The president has turned the abandoned briefing room into a new stage and he’s making it must-see TV.
To anybody suddenly tuning into the president’s press conference this Monday evening, it might have seemed like the leader of the free world was channeling an off-hours televangelist, taking advantage of a pandemic to offer a hazy tale of a miraculous cure.
“… a gentleman,” Donald Trump intoned from inside the White House, invoking an antimalarial remedy called hydroxychloroquine, “they thought he was not going to make it. He said goodbye to his family. They had given him the drug just a little while before, but he thought it was over. His family thought he was going to die. And a number of hours later, he woke up, felt good. Then he woke up again, and he felt really good. And he’s in good shape. And he’s very happy …” The drug, if it works on Covid-19, would be, he said, “a gift from God.”
This brief, almost mystical tale came in the eight-minute mark of the first hour of another installment of what has become a new American serial drama.
Over the last two weeks, Trump has embarked on a striking chapter of his optics-obsessed presidency, turning the all-but-abandoned briefing room into the set of a largely unscripted television series that has gripped, worried and (depending on one’s political affiliation) infuriated viewers.
Stripped of the weapon of his rallies, of “chopper talk,” of the sorts of set pieces to which the populace had grown accustomed over the three-plus years he’s been commander-in-chief, Trump as a president in crisis has engineered something different. While governors from New York to California have staged almost daily briefings, offering a traditional mixture of stern warnings and words of comfort, Trump has created something more like a show built on narrative surprises and populated with familiar characters—the good doctors, the bad reporters, the loyal lieutenants. And in the middle of it all, playing the role of the ringmaster, the marketer and the brander and the professed expert, is Trump.
His mood and his message have ebbed and flowed, alternately boasting and bashing, soothing and striking, intermittently solemn, flippant and peeved, flouting facts and shifting blame, underplaying dire projections and overselling potential vaccines.
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