WASHINGTON – Listening to President Trump recently, the question arises: What’s he got against babies?
“I’m not a baby,” Trump felt compelled to assure CBS News’ Lesley Stahl – twice – during his 60 Minutes interview.
First, on the subject of Kim Jong Un, when Stahl described his “cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation,” asking, “This is a guy you love?” Trump: “Sure. I know all these things. I mean – I’m not a baby. I know these things.”
Second, on the question of whether he trusts his own White House staff. “I’m not a baby,” Trump assured Stahl. “It’s a tough business. … This is a vicious place.” Then, on Friday, The New York Times’ Emily Cochrane asked Trump what evidence he had “that these are hardened criminals that are coming to the United States,” Trump shot back, “Oh please. Please. Don’t be a baby. OK?”
This is not a new development, although there does seem to have been something of a baby boom of late. Back during the presidential campaign, Joshua Green reported in “Devil’s Bargain,” Trump exploded at then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort over a New York Times report that campaign aides took to television to get Trump’s attention. “You think you’ve gotta go on TV to talk to me? You treat me like a baby!” Trump said, in Green’s recounting. “Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch T,V and you talk to me? Am I a f — king baby, Paul?”
More recently, Bob Woodward, in “Fear,” recounts Trump’s similarly phrased unhappiness with Rudy Giuliani when the former New York mayor took to the airwaves in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape. Woodward: “Rudy, you’re a baby,” Trump said loudly. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?”
Likewise, attacking Sen. Richard Blumenthal last year after the Connecticut Democrat defended the investigation into Russian collusion, Trump unfurled his favorite insult. After reports that Blumenthal misrepresented his military service, Trump tweeted, he “cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child.”
And then, of course, that blimp – Trump in an inflated, diapered rendition, his babyhood made manifest. We know the image rankled, even if he managed to avoid it on his trip to England in July. “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” Trump told The Sun.
What’s this all about? We know Trump has little evident interest in babies, including his own. Asked in a 2005 radio interview, when Melania Trump was pregnant with his fifth child, whether he would “actually change diapers,” Trump was quick to disavow such activities. “That’s not my thing. I’m really, like, a great father, but certain things you do and certain things you don’t. It’s just not for me.”
… Trump expressed equal disdain for the apparently demeaning task of pushing his baby in a stroller, recalling how his second wife, Marla Maples, used to prod him to do so. “Right, I’m gonna be walking down Fifth Avenue with a baby in a carriage,” Trump said. …
On one level, Trump’s deployment of, and bristling at, “baby” as the ultimate insult illustrates his aversion to weakness, or the appearance thereof. “Strong” is Trump’s go-to praise; nothing is weaker or more helpless than a baby. He does not want to appear either naive – for example, about Kim’s ruthlessness – or susceptible to being pushed around, whether by his staff or a foreign leader.
But there is more going on here. Trump’s quickness to express resentment about such handling is reminiscent of teenagers seeking to assert independence from parents. I’m not a baby. You treat me like a baby. These eruptions sound more like a petulant freshman home for fall break than a president of the United States. And, like a college student beginning the process of separation, they betray a lingering anxiety about unreadiness for the task at hand.