Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
President Donald Trump’s touting of how his administration has accomplished more than any — yes, any — past administration in its first two years is one of his most consistent applause lines in his campaign patter.
“I don’t believe there has been any administration in the history of this country that has done more in two years — and we’re not even up to two years yet — than our administration,” Trump said last week during a campaign speech in Las Vegas — while reading a literal paper list of those accomplishments.
“Nobody has done what this administration has done in terms of getting things passed and getting things through,” he told a group of sheriffs earlier this month.
His supporters love the line: Despite all of the losers and haters, Trump is MAGA-ing!
Which brings us to Tuesday morning — and Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said, as he does.
“So true,” said Trump, clearly caught by surprise by the laughter. “I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” he added to more laughter and some applause.
Here’s the moment:
Before we go any further let me be clear: I wasn’t in the room. I was watching it live on TV from Washington. But, watching on television, the perception of those few seconds was clear: The gathered world leaders — or at least some of them — were laughing at Trump’s contention that he had done more in two years than any previous American administration ever.
Which makes some sense given that the claim seems, on its face ridiculous. There was Abraham Lincoln’s management of the Civil War, Ulysses Grant’s stewardship of the country through Reconstruction, Woodrow Wilson’s work to repair the world community following World War I, Truman’s work to do the same post-World War II, Ronald Reagan’s steering of the country though the Cold War … I mean, the list goes on and on.
And it dwarfs Trump’s accomplishments which, at least on the world stage, are at best incomplete at the moment. From his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords to his trade fight with China, we simply don’t know what Trump’s policies will mean in the light of history.
That Trump was taken aback by the laughter is telling, too.
It’s possible that he believed they were laughing with him when, at least to my watching/listening, they were laughing at him — or at least at his grandiose claim. His response — “I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK” — and the smile on his face when he said it suggests Trump simply was (is?) unaware of what the laughter almost certainly meant.
The truth of Trump’s life in office — and this is true for lots of presidents but even more true for him — is that he simply doesn’t come face-to-face with very many people who disagree with him about much of anything. Trump’s MO is to surround himself with blood relatives and people who accommodate his moods, proclivities and views. He lives in a bubble of his own making, and has done so long before he became President or even a candidate for president. He’s just not used to people who aren’t paid to tell him what he is saying is right. All the time.
It’s also possible that he was just covering in the moment, that playing it all off was the insta-calculation Trump made in his head to defuse the situation as much as possible. If that’s the case, you can be sure that Trump will be stewing about the moment. Remember that Trump has repeatedly mentioned how bothered he was by other countries laughing at the United States before he was President.
“The world is laughing at us,” he would say on the campaign trail, referring to the policies of then-President Barack Obama.
“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore,’ Trump said last June “And they won’t be. They won’t be.”
All of that history means that if Trump understood what the world leaders were really laughing at, he’s likely to take to Twitter sometime in the not-too-distant future to clap back.
Either way, it was a remarkable moment in a presidency that has been full of them.