Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Mar-a-Lago
Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talking to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, FL, March 8, 2024. Photo credit: © Zoltan Fischer/EFE via ZUMA Press

Pretending to still be commander in chief, and having others treat him as such, is one of Donald Trump's favorite things. 

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On Friday, Donald Trump once again palled around with another authoritarian — this time Hungary’s President Viktor Orbán. That in itself isn’t overly newsworthy. Trump envies the vast powers that dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un enjoy. And he isn’t shy about admitting it… or maybe he is just too dumb to keep his own authoritarian fantasies a secret. 

In any case, what was interesting about the meeting — and how Trump has been conducting himself since losing the 2020 election — is the way he continues to cosplay president… and that so many journalists are playing along. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, “cosplay” refers to dressing up as a certain character. For example, you can see a lot of cosplaying (short for “costume playing”) at Star Trek conventions.

Trump, however, is the only person who is cosplaying US president: Pretending to still be commander in chief, and having others treat him as such, is one of his favorite things. 

He travels on a plane he pretentiously calls “Trump Force One.” He drives around in enormous motorcades, and most Republicans keep referring to him as “Mr. President.” 

The meeting with Orbán is a great example of what that cosplay looks like.

The Trump campaign released a “readout” of the meeting complete with a couple of photos that look exactly as though two heads of state are getting together — complete with multiple flags of each country flanking the pair as they posed for the pictures.

However, this wasn’t a meeting of two heads of state. It was a meeting between the president of a country and a dude who likes to pretend that he is still running a country. 

The intention of the Trump campaign is clear: They want to give the former president legitimacy so that people forget that he is just another private citizen right now. (Of course, he’s not just a private citizen; he is one who is facing over 90 felony charges in four different criminal cases and owes about $500 million stemming from his recent losses in two civil cases — one for fraud and one for defamation following his sexual assault of writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s.)

Trump is the only one of former commanders in chief who likes to pretend to be president. 

Until he got too old, Jimmy Carter built houses and taught Sunday school, George W. Bush paints, Bill Clinton launched a foundation, and Barack Obama likes to make money. Sure, they are referred to as “president” when journalists write about them, but the point is that journalists do not often write about them… and it would be weird if they did follow their every move like they do with Trump.

The reason is simple: They are no longer in office. 

In other words, the media loves to go along with Trump’s cosplay, which (intentionally or not) is giving more credibility to his claim that he won an election that every sane person knows he lost. 

We are seeing way too much coverage of Trump’s plane landing, his oversized motorcade going places, and him meeting with actual world leaders. 

Here, too, yesterday’s meeting is a great example. News outlets covered it like it was a get-together of two heads of state. Take Reuters, the world’s second largest wire service. 

In the second paragraph of a story on the meeting, they simply copied the “readout” that Trump’s campaign released but that said, essentially nothing: 

President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met today at Mar-a-Lago to discuss a wide range of issues affecting Hungary and the United States, including the paramount importance of strong and secure borders to protect the sovereignty of each nation.

Usually, a readout is more detailed and includes specific plans being discussed. Of course, that’s not possible in this case because Trump. Is. Not. President. 

Granted, a fair point is that he is the presumptive GOP nominee. However, the media going along with his cosplay is not a recent phenomenon. It began shortly after Joe Biden, the actual president, was sworn in (and all the ruckus following the January 6 insurrection had died down a bit).

And by covering him like they did back then, as a legitimate politician who pretends to still be in office (instead of the man who tried to stage a coup), mainstream journalists have facilitated Trump’s resurgence.

Many journalists seem — or pretend to be — baffled as to why Trump continues to dominate the GOP in the way he does. How has it been possible for a guy who lost the popular vote by 7 million to get away with convincing his cult-like followers that he actually won and deserves to be in office?

Well, maybe the first place they should start looking is in the mirror. Because it’s not just Trump’s propaganda outlets that do this; it’s also the mainstream media as a whole. 

Instead of treating Trump as the democracy-threatening, election-losing, and (quite frankly) crazy person that he is, they kept covering his every move as though he were still president. 

That might be good for clicks and ratings, but, if he does win in November, it’s bad for the entire world.

Well, maybe not for the likes of Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Orbán.

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