Forty-five minutes into a 49-minute news conference on Friday that was disjointed, defensive and yet unusually subdued, President Trump looked into the sun at the throng of journalists and television cameras and offered a window into his bruised psyche.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had shown him a “beautiful” five-page letter, nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize, he said.
“Many other people feel that way too,” Trump added. “I’ll probably never get it, but that’s OK,”
“They gave it to Obama. He didn't even know what he got it for,” Trump added. “He was there for about 15 seconds and he got the Nobel Prize. He said, ‘Oh, what did I get it for?’ With me, I probably will never get it.”
The monologue continued, reminiscent of nothing so much as Rodney Dangerfield, with Trump even spreading his arms and shaking his head as if to mimic the late comedian’s catch phrase — “I don’t get no respect!”
The riff combined the pathos of a president long frustrated by his lack of affirmation with the resentment Trump directs at his predecessor and the world at large, along with some false boasting about his role in fixing the planet’s greatest woes.
It began with Trump defending his diplomacy with North Korea, which has yet to yield concrete progress toward dismantling the country’s nuclear program. Trump touted his accomplishments and repeated his claim that President Obama was on the verge of going to war with North Korea. (Obama’s former national security spokesman called the war claim “absolutely false.”)
“We do a lot of good work. This administration does a tremendous job, and we don’t get credit for it,” Trump said.
The complaint that he is unfairly overlooked lies at the center of Trump’s political message — the self-proclaimed billionaire businessman who is nonetheless the embodiment of “the forgotten man and the forgotten woman” he conjures at his political rallies. It echoes the anger Trump has felt for decades at the elites in Palm Beach and Manhattan who, despite his wealth and fame, often treated him as a garish tabloid figure.
Even Trump’s closest media allies, he said on Friday, could not be depended on.
“Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do,” Trump said. “Not of me. If I change my views, he wouldn't be with me.”
Trump said he had not only saved the country from a costly and bloody war with North Korea, but had “stopped the slaughter of perhaps 3 million people” in Syria.
“They don't talk about that,” Trump said, returning to his frustration with the media.
“Russia and Iran and Syria were going to go in and perhaps destroy 3 million people in order to get 45,000 terrorists,” he said.
Trump said he heard about the imminent bloodshed from “a certain paper” and an unnamed woman who had parents and brothers living in Syria.
“She said ‘Please, please,’” Trump said.
“I put out a statement that ‘You better not do it,’” Trump said, explaining the sum of his action. “And in all fairness to Russia and Iran and Syria, they didn't attack or they are doing it surgically, at least. Saved a lot of people.”
Trump seemed to be referring to — and taking credit for — a shaky ceasefire arrangement around Idlib province in Syria, an area of about 3 million people and the last remaining rebel stronghold.
The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its Russian backers claim that Idlib is a "hotbed of terrorists" and have threatened to retake the area. But while the Trump administration did warn in September against such a move, the demilitarized zone is enforced by Russia and Turkey, not the United States, which has largely been left out of the negotiations.
Trump has long resented the fact-checking of the mainstream media on claims he makes about things such as events in Syria, viewing the scrutiny as part of the wider assault on his legitimacy.
After calling CNN “fake news,” denigrating NBC and ABC in one swipe and telling a reporter to get on with his “fake question” on Friday, Trump insisted to reporters who said he was overstating the crime and immigration problem at the border that “he gets his numbers from a lot of sources,” including the Department of Homeland Security and that they affirm his belief that the border is “a disaster.”
Yet he also offered a rare moment of introspection as he explained why he had failed to win funding for his border wall through the first two years of his presidency.
“I was a little new to the job, a little new to the profession,” Trump said.
He went on to blame others who let him down, later settling on “I’m learning.”