50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency

by Jeffrey Goldberg
Editor in chief of The Atlantic
January, 2019


In an October 2016 editorial, The Atlantic wrote of Donald Trump: “He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar.” We argued that Trump “expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself.” Trump, we also noted, “is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

In retrospect, we may be guilty of understatement.

There was a hope, in the bewildering days following the 2016 election, that the office would temper the man—that Trump, in short, would change.

He has not changed.

This week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.

Our 2016 editorial was a repudiation of Donald Trump’s character as much as it was an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. It was not meant to be partisan. The Atlantic’s founders promised their readers that we would be “of no party or clique.” This remains a core governing principle of the magazine today. What follows is a catalog of incidents, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance. In most any previous presidency, Democratic or Republican, each moment on this list would have been unthinkable.

25. “We’re gonna have the cleanest air”. By Robinson Meyer
24. The president can’t stop talking about carnage. By Rebecca J. Rosen
23. America gets a first daughter. By Caitlin Flanagan
22. The UN General Assembly laughs at the president. By Rachel Donadio
21. Rain stops Trump from honoring the dead. By Eliot A. Cohen. 
20. The president learns about separation of powers. By Russell Berman.
19. The president learns about the Justice Department. By Natasha Bertrand
18. The president lies constantly. By Angie Drobnic Holan
17. Trump threatens to press his “nuclear button”. By Uri Friedman
16. Public humiliation comes for everyone in the White House.By Alex Wagner
15. The CIA dead become a TV prop. By Vernon Loeb
14. You know you’re in a constitutional crisis when… By Quinta Jurecic
13. Trump mocks Christine Blasey Ford to a cheering crowd. By McKay Coppins
12. A new term enters the presidential lexicon: “shithole countries”. By Ibram X. Kendi
11. Trump throws paper towels at Puerto Ricans. By Vann R. Newkirk II
10. “I have the absolute right to pardon myself”. By Garrett Epps
9. Covfefe. By Adrienne LaFrance
8. The president calls his porn-star ex-paramour “horseface”. By Sophie Gilbert
7. Trump picks the wrong countries for his travel ban. By Hannah Giorgis
6. Trump declares war on black athletes. By Jemele Hill
5. James Comey is fired. By Benjamin Wittes
4.Putin and Trump talk without chaperones. By Franklin Foer
3.The president still hasn’t released his tax returns. By Annie Lowrey
2.“Very fine people on both sides”. By Adam Serwer
1.Children are taken from their parents and incarcerated. By Ashley Fetters

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