What he talked about

Himself. On the day the president-elect told us he would resolve concerns about his conflicts of interest, he instead built his cult of personality. Since he requires adulation and reporters do not applaud, he packed the room with staff, let the vice president warm up the crowd, and produced an anomaly—a presidential press conference with an adoring crowd.

He did not address big concerns, jobs, the blind trust, even Russian cyber-aggression, except in the context of his own greatness.

Does anybody believe that “Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me,” he asked. “Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break!”

Well, yes. I, for one, believe it given his constant praise of Vladimir Putin. But this answer went beyond standard political self-congratulation. This absurdity was offered in response to a reporter who asked whether Trump accepted the intelligence finding that Putin had meant to help elect him. And Trump did not deny it.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability,” he said. He conceded that the e-mails that damaged the Clinton campaign probably were hacked by Russia, but then he softened the charge by blaming the victim, the Democratic National Committee, and asserting that many countries hack.

He divided news organizations into those who were kind to him and those who were not, refusing to allow a question from CNN. He spoke of Ford and Chrysler-Fiat expansion plans as motivated by him, not by market forces.

His lawyer portrayed him as going beyond legal requirements to resolve the appearance of conflicts of interest, displaying a table full of paper as proof that he’d signed over control of his assets.

She compared his wealth to Nelson Rockefeller’s when he became vice president to President Ford, adding, “But at that time, no one was so concerned.” Another lie. There was great controversy over that and hearings on it in both houses of Congress. Ultimately Rockefeller put his assets in a blind trust of the kind Trump is refusing.

Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, ethics advisors to Presidents Obama and George W. Bush respectively, and Walter Schaub, director of the nonpartisan Government Ethics Office, all agreed that the measures he is taking fall far short of resolving the issue and assure continued controversy.

Trump too made this issue about himself, saying that he did not need to do anything but that he wanted to go beyond requirements, observing that “over the weekend” he had turned down a $2 billion real estate deal in Dubai.

He would not, he said, release his tax returns saying—to applause—that the public doesn’t care about them. The Washington Post cited an August poll in which 74 per cent of voters and 62 per cent of Republicans thought he should release them.

Portraying all of his ideas as great ones that “you’re gonna love” and all that went before as “disasters” created by inept and weak leaders, this president-elect fed a cult-of-personality myth of the kind that flourished in the last century’s dictatorships.

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