Trump believes he is one of the greatest presidents ever. He is surrounded by enablers who encourage his fantasies. Those who speak truth to Trump are soon fired. Think Mattis, Kelly, Tillerson.

James Hohmann writes today in the Washington Post:

President Trump said Sunday night that etching his likeness in granite on Mount Rushmore alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt “sounds like a good idea.”

Trump has spent a lifetime putting his name on prime real estate, but this aspiration to add his visage to perhaps the nation’s foremost symbol of presidential greatness also epitomizes how his perception of his own job performance diverges so sharply from the views of most Americans.

A quote in a Sunday front-page story on the White House’s dysfunctional coronavirus response helps illuminate why the gulf has only grown wider as the United States surpasses 5 million cases and nears 160,000 confirmed deaths.

Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “You’re not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Sen. John Thune (R) greet Donald and Melania Trump at Ellsworth Air Force Base on July 3 in Rapid City, S.D., on his way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. (Alex Brandon/AP)
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Sen. John Thune (R) greet Donald and Melania Trump at Ellsworth Air Force Base on July 3 in Rapid City, S.D., on his way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. (Alex Brandon/AP)

This is one of 41 senior officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts who gave interviews to Phil Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Bob Costa. Many spoke only on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential discussions.

“Staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop for the boss. They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great — even historically excellent — job fighting the virus,” my colleagues report.

Legend has it that fake portable villages were built to impress Russian Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin during a 1787 trip to Crimea.

“Everybody is too scared of their own shadow to speak the truth,” said another senior official involved in the response.

Trump is “just not oriented towards things that even in the short term look like they’re involving something that’s hard or negative or that involves sacrifice or pain,” added a former senior administration official.

This is not the first time one of Trump’s undertakings has been likened to a Potemkin village. Steven Perskie, the former chairman of New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, called the Taj Mahal casino a “Potemkin village” before Trump drove the Atlantic City project into bankruptcy through mismanagement and by taking on excessive debts.

Trump gave up on talks for a relief package with congressional Democrats. This is his latest high-profile failure to negotiate a major deal with the legislative branch, along with other issues such as health care, immigration, guns and policing. Instead, he signed executive orders with pomp and circumstance. He acknowledged during a signing ceremony on Saturday that these will not accomplish as much as legislation could, even as he overhyped what they will actually do. Meanwhile, the summer of civil unrest continued this weekend from Chicago to Portland, Ore.

On Sunday night, Trump tweeted a photograph of himself smirking, pointing to the sky, with Mt. Rushmore in the background.

A few minutes later, the president denied a report in Sunday’s New York Times that said a White House aide reached out to the South Dakota governor’s office last year to find out what the process would be to add Trump’s likeness to Mount Rushmore. He tweeted: “Never suggested it although, based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!”

The Times journalists, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, expressed confidence in their reporting. Their story also revealed that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) greeted Trump with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included his likeness when he arrived in the state last month for an Independence Day celebration.

Noem’s efforts to ingratiate herself with Trump prompted fears among Vice President Pence’s allies that she might be angling for his job, and the story says that she flew to Washington to reassure Pence three weeks later. But the 48-year-old has installed a TV studio in her state Capitol to allow her to frequently appear on Fox News, she’s been taking advice from Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and she’s scheduled to address a county Republican dinner in Iowa next month with an eye toward a potential run for president in 2024.

This is not the first time that Trump has expressed interest in adding his face to Rushmore. He mused about it in a 2017 speech. And, in 2018, when Noem was a GOP member of Congress running for governor, she told the largest newspaper in her state that Trump brought up the idea during their first meeting in the Oval Office.

“ He said, ‘Kristi, come on over here. Shake my hand,’ ” Noem recalled. “I shook his hand, and I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?’ ” Noem told the Argus Leader that she quickly realized Trump was not joking. “I started laughing,” she said. “He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.”

“But there’s also the question of whether the rock would be stable enough to add another towering set of presidential features,” Tim Elfrink reports. “Jefferson’s tribute had to be moved from its original spot due to flaws in the granite. The staff at Mount Rushmore says any further sculpting is simply impossible.”