When we talk about President Trump (as we've been known to do here a few times), it's so easy to focus on his deficiencies -- his record number of untrue statements, or his seeming lack of basic knowledge about his administration's own initiatives, or his narcissistic nonstop craving for praise, or his management style that seems to mainly involve chugging Diet Coke and rage-tweeting eight hours a day about cable TV news. When we do that, however, we tend to forget one thing. The man also accomplished one of the most difficult feats known to humankind, something various smart folks including John Kerry, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and John McCain can attest to -- getting elected president of the United States. Like the proverbial hedgehog, Trump surely must know one big thing.
That one thing, as we saw throughout 2015 and 2016, is manipulating the media, not only to get a ridiculous amount of free air time, but also to work the spin cycle of rage and resentment and to use that news coverage -- no matter how negative it appears to be on the surface -- to keep his base of supporters engaged and often whipped up in a state of frenzy. And as 2018 dawns, The Donald clearly hasn't lost track of his One Big Idea.
So it was this past week -- the totally-devoid-of-actual-news dead zone between Christmas and New Year's -- that the president suddenly, without warning, made himself available for a half hour, without any aides present and with minimal interruption, to New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt for a rambling interview that completely dominated the cycle for the next 48 hours. In these crazy times, that seemed like an eternity.
Trump made some news over the course of 30 minutes, of course. He claimed that "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department" -- a statement that was quickly challenged by constitutional scholars and could foreshadow tumultuous doings for the Trump-Russia probe in 2018. He insisted there was "no collusion" between his 2016 campaign and Russia's election hacking a whopping 16 times, a classic case -- one could argue -- of the man "doth protest too much, methinks." But most reviews of the Times interview focused on three other things: