His beleaguered but always game press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, gave it a try in a briefing Wednesday. She wasn’t much help. The president’s stroll was a “leadership moment,” she said. (Just as “photo op” is a boneless insult, “leadership” is a boneless compliment.) “Look,” she said, “the President wanted to send a very powerful message that we will not be overcome by looting, by rioting, by burning.”
And indeed we won’t be, so long as each of us is surrounded by armed guards and has our path cleared by hundreds of policemen in riot gear. McEnany compared the president’s photo op with other leadership moments, such as “Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings.” A photo op is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s no good.
A certain kind of person, if he makes a mistake, thinks he can persuade people it wasn’t a mistake by quickly repeating it with confidence and élan. Musicians do this all the time when they’re improvising, and some are hailed for their genius. That trick is riskier for politicians. The day after he was widely denounced for symbolically saving St. John’s Church from arson, Trump corralled his wife and drove up to another religious site, this one run by Catholics, compounding his errors of taste and tactic and lending them an ecumenical flair. The president and First Lady clenched hands and grinned—well, the president grinned; the First Lady looked as if she wished she’d never left Slovenia—outside the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Northeast Washington. Then they went home.