Monday, June 29, 2020 | 2 a.m.
Donald Trump thinks we’re out to get him.
“You could say 10 speeches. One little word, they’ll say: ‘He’s lost it,’ ” the president complained during a speech in Phoenix last week.
That would presumably be an inaccurate little word. Or something very weird, like his claim at a famously underattended event in Tulsa, Okla., that he’d ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing to make it seem as if the infection rate was smaller.
Desperate presidential spinners said that was just a joke. “I don’t kid,” Trump retorted.
Tulsa was, according to the president, the beginning of his re-election campaign. He’s actually shot off the starting gun several times before. But it does feel as if we’re in a new phase. Those big rallies are Trump’s favorite part of being the leader of the most powerful nation on the globe. He’s been locked down for months now, confined mainly to gatherings in which other people occasionally get to talk.
He needs his screaming fans, even if this is a terrible idea, healthwise. Six members of Trump’s advance team got sick while doing the planning, and now at least two other staffers tested positive.
You’re not going to get this guy to stay home. He needs to compliment himself in front of thousands of people. Lacing into the Democratic “elite,” Trump assured his audience that he is more elite than anybody. “I look better than them. Much more handsome. Got better hair than they do. I got nicer properties. I got nicer houses. I got nicer apartments. I got nicer everything.”
And, for sure, a bigger ego. After he finished raging to his staff about the tiers of empty seats in Tulsa, the president announced the night had been a historical smash hit: “No. 1 show in Fox history for a Saturday night.”
Yeah, Fox News announced “a whopping 7.7 million total viewers” had tuned in to listen to Trump speak. Pretty impressive, particularly if you ignore the fact that most of the nation has been locked up at home in a world without sports broadcasting, having already rewatched every episode of “Star Trek” and “Friends.”
Still, many of us will remember Tulsa as That Rally Where Two-Thirds Of The Seats Were Empty. His next appearance, in Arizona, was much more Trump’s cup of tea: a megachurch packed with cheering fans who generally ignored all the official pleas for masking.
Most of the audience was young. Having lured them into endangering their health for his ego, Trump entertained them with tales of his heroic efforts to drain the political swamp. “I never knew it was so deep — it’s deep and thick and a lot of bad characters,” he confided.
Well, there aren’t many swamp critters more appalling than Roger Stone, the political fixer who spent part of the 2016 presidential campaign trying to get information for the Trump forces about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and attempting to intimidate a witness — in part by threatening to kidnap the guy’s therapy dog.
As swamp residents go, Stone would maybe be the equivalent of a 5-foot-11-inch mosquito. But Wednesday a federal prosecutor told Congress that he and his associates had been told they could be fired if they didn’t go easy when it came to sentencing. On account of how, you know, Stone was the president’s pal.
Even if they’re a little dodgy on the facts side, the rallies are at least a good way to keep Trump distracted. In Tulsa, he was fretting about the ongoing demonstrations in Seattle. He asked a congressman who was traveling with him on the plane whether he ought to “just go in” and do something to stop the protesters.
The reply was: “No, sir, let it simmer for a little while.” Darned good advice, although if he’d gone the other way, maybe the congressman could have added, “And be sure to bring a Bible.”
One other thing about that story — it’s an example of how Trump likes to lace his rallies with anecdotes in which people call him “sir.” There were 11 “sirs” in the Tulsa speech alone.
Daniel Dale, a CNN reporter who’s been following this tic for a long time, theorized that “sir” was a hint that whatever anecdote Trump was telling was actually fictional. But it’s also pretty clear that the president just loves stories in which people are addressing him as if he were, say, a general.
Trump’s been spending a lot of time trying to beat down that image of him at West Point this month, leaving the stage with an old-guy totter down the ramp. The fake news, he insisted, cut off all the film that showed him running — running! — for the last 10 feet. “I looked very handsome,” he observed to the crowd.
Later, Trump asked Melania what the reaction to his West Point speech was. She assured him that the media wasn’t saying much about his address, but “they mention the fact that you may have Parkinson’s disease.”
He referred to Melania as “my wife,” which is, I guess, nicer than “the old ball and chain.” Interesting, though, that she didn’t feel compelled to deliver any good news. Maybe when you have to live with an ego that large, you try to chip away every little chance you get.
And she didn’t call him “sir.”
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.