18 of the Most Shocking Moments That Defined Donald Trump’s Norm-Shattering Presidency
Looking back on the 45th president's controversial time in office
The president raises a bible for an unusual photo op outside St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020.
Before the image was taken at the church — located just steps from the White House — it turned out authorities had tossed flash grenades and ignited tear gas among peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors who happened to be lining the route from the president's residence to the church.
Trump throws packages of paper towels into a crowd of Hurricane Maria survivors in Gauynabo, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 3, 2017, weeks after the storm wreaked havoc there.
The commander-in-chief was widely criticized for his response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, withholding funds to help the U.S. territory in part because he believed the island had "thrown our budget a little out of whack," he said during the Oct. 3 visit. He also believed Puerto Rico was receiving too much rebuilding money when compared to other hurricane hotspots like Texas and Florida, per the AP. The president butted heads in particular with the mayor of San Juan, disagreeing on the death toll and FEMA response to the crisis.
President Trump waves to supporters outside the Walter Reed Medical Center during a drive to greet them amid his October 2020 hospitalization for COVID-19.
During Trump’s tenure, more than 400,000 Americans died of the novel coronavirus as hospitals faced shortages of beds and PPE, misinformation spread and tempers flared over the use of masks and social distancing. A COVID task force assembled by the president gave daily updates beginning in March, though stopped speaking publicly in April, resuming for a short time in the summer. During his own hospitalization for the virus, President Trump — who had symptoms including fever and fatigue — was treated with the drugs dexamethasone, Regeneron's antibody treatment and remdesivir — not widely available to most people hospitalized with COVID-19.
Pro-Trump rioters storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, following a rally by the president perpetuating his lies about the results of the 2020 election.
In the wake of the November 2020 election, Trump refused to acknowledge Joe Biden's win, questioning the results of several battleground states and wrongfully claiming Biden won the election because of voter fraud and errors with mail-in ballots. His anger culminated in a rally the morning the Senate was certifying the election results — under the guidance of Vice President and Senate President Mike Pence — and later, a riot in the Capitol, with supporters breaking glass, injuring and even killing one Capitol police officer and desecrating spaces of the sacred building. Members of Congress took shelter in offices, fearing for their lives, and Trump's refusal to outwardly denounce the violence — and his continued spread of misinformation — led social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to ban him. As of inauguration day, dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the riot, and five people are dead.
First Lady Melania Trump boards a plane to visit detention centers holding migrant children in McAllen, Texas, on June 21, 2018, wearing a green Zara jacket featuring the words “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” written in graffiti lettering across the back.
Her visit came on the heels of the president's decision to reverse his administration’s policy to separate children from their detained parents who crossed the border into the United States seeking asylum. He'd first signed such his zero-tolerance order that May, resulting in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents. (As of October 2020, more than 500 children remained separated from their parents.) Responding to heavy criticism over the jacket four months later, the first lady — whose spokeswoman at first denied the piece was making a statement — said the "I Really Don't Care" message was aimed at the "left-wing media."
President Donald Trump stares at the sky on Aug. 21, 2017, while watching the total solar eclipse in Washington, D.C.
Trump made the same mistake during the eclipse that scientists had been warning against for weeks: He looked directly into the sun without protective glasses. As Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron, then 11, emerged on the Truman Balcony of the White House, the president put on “eclipse glasses”, then took them off and, for a brief moment, stared upwards at the sun. “As he did this, someone in a crowd of aides below shouted ‘Don’t look,’ ” according to the Wall Street Journal‘s Ted Mann, who posted a photo from the moment on Twitter.
Trump spends time on the golf course on Nov. 7, 2020, as the presidential race is called in favor of his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Though he often criticized former President Barack Obama for the amount of time he spent on the golf course, Trump far exceeded his predecessor's hours on the links, costing taxpayers upward of $100 million. And because he generally played his own courses, he pocketed some of that money; a HuffPost analysis reported that "each trip also results in many thousands of taxpayer dollars flowing to Trump resorts for hotel rooms, golf carts, and food and drink for Secret Service agents." The mayor of London even called Trump out in 2019 as Trump golfed while Hurricane Dorian was making landfall in the southern United States.
When asked, Trump doesn't denounce white supremacy during the Sept. 29, 2020, presidential debate, instead telling far-right group the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."
Throughout his time in office, many noted the president's markedly different responses to protests led by white people versus people of color. In May 2020, for example, he tweeted, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," about protestors marching in the streets of Minneapolis following the death of unarmed Black man George Floyd at the hands of police; following the violent Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, he told the predominantly white crowd "you are special" and "we love you" in a recorded message asking them to go home.
Trump appears to push aside Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic during a gathering at NATO's new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on May 25, 2017.
The president's behavior with foreign dignitaries was often called into question: a photo of world leaders staring him down at the 2018 G-7 summit went viral; he reportedly kept Queen Elizabeth II waiting for tea and at one point turned his back on her during their July 2018 meeting; and he had a second, previously undisclosed meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin during the 2017 G20 summit. He also drew the ire of activists like climate change advocate Greta Thunberg, who stared him down during a 2019 United Nations meeting in New York City.
First Lady Melania Trump appears to swat her husband's hand away as they leave Washington, D.C., for a visit to Ohio in 2018.
There was also no husband-wife hand-holding as the Trumps arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 22, 2017, the second stop on their eight-day tour to five countries. As the pair walked away from Air Force One on the Israeli tarmac, the president was seen reaching for his wife’s hand. She then appeared to be swatting the president’s hand away. Israeli newspaper Haaretz shared a clip of the moment on Twitter, and it went viral. In the years that followed, the first lady was seen seemingly moving her husband's hand away from hers many more times, including after the final presidential debate in October 2020.
During an April 23, 2020, COVID-19 update at the White House, President Trump floats the idea of blasting patients with ultraviolet light or injecting them with disinfectant to combat the virus following an update from William Bryan, the under secretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security.
The daily coronavirus press briefings ended after what was dubbed "bleachgate," but resumed later that summer. Though they often included helpful information from scientific leaders such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, they were also a platform for the president to spread misinformation about testing and masks, lash out at Democratic governors of harder-hit states and lock horns with reporters.
Protestors gather at New York City's JFK International Airport on Jan. 28, 2017, in support of newly banned refugees and visitors wishing to enter the country.
On Jan. 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that temporarily banned any refugees from entering the U.S., indefinitely banned refugees who hail from Syria and temporarily banned citizens from several Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The order also required a “religious test” of sorts for refugees attempting to enter the U.S., giving preferential treatment to Christian and other religious minorities who live in Muslim countries over Muslims. The order, called the “Muslim ban” by Trump’s critics, outraged many and caused bottlenecks at major U.S. airports as stranded travelers filed for emergency appeals. The ACLU and others have fought the order in court since it was first introduced, though in 2018, the Supreme Court upheld a third version of the ban signed by Trump.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018.
During his tenure, Trump appointed three conservative Supreme Court justices to take seats vacated by Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nominee Kavanaugh, Trump's second appointee, faced intense scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced from high school acquaintance Christine Blasey Ford. Ford testified against Kavanaugh — despite threats to her safety for doing so — but ultimately, Kavanaugh was confirmed by an exceptionally narrow Senate margin.
Trump becomes the first U.S. president to set foot in North Korea on June 30, 2019, with dictator Kim Jong Un at his side.
The moment marked the pair's third meeting, and was widely criticized by Democrats for glamorizing the dictator and not accomplishing denuclearization. It was later revealed that Trump and the authoritarian leader exchanged more than two-dozen letters during the president's tenure, complimenting each other's leadership styles. Days before the end of Trump's term in January 2021, however, Kim Jong Un declared the United States North Korea's "arch-enemy."
Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2018.
After saying his administration “has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country," he reportedly got some laughs from other world leaders in the room. According to CNN, the president later said, "Well that was meant to get some laughter." Trump's time in office was filled with grandiose claims of his accomplishments, though many were found to be exaggerated or untrue.
Edited and unedited images of Donald Trump's January 2017 inauguration, side by side.
In one of the earlier dishonest moments of his presidential career, it came out that a photographer employed by the U.S. government allegedly edited — at President Donald Trump‘s request — official inauguration photos so the number of attendees would appear greater, The Guardian reported. According to documents obtained by the outlet — investigative reports compiled by the inspector general of the Department of the Interior — the president was allegedly displeased that his crowd appeared smaller than the one at former President Barack Obama‘s 2009 inauguration.
Protestors and counter-protestors clash during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, on Aug. 12, 2017.
The aftermath of the deadly event marked a chance for Trump to denounce white supremacy early in his presidency, though instead, he told reporters he believed there were "very fine people on both sides" of the protests. He even doubled down on his comments one month later, after politicians on both sides of the aisle lambasted his response to the violence.
Trump celebrates the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett with an event in the White House rose garden on Sept. 26, 2020.
Prior to her expedited confirmation hearings — just one week before the November 2020 election — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was celebrated with a mostly unmasked, not socially distanced party at the White House. It was another moment of the administration's defiance toward the COVID-19 pandemic, but ended up having consequences: more than 10 people, including the president and first lady, tested positive for coronavirus in the days afterward. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of those infected, was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. Despite the infections, the White House reportedly turned down an offer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist with contact tracing.