President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Trump’s ability to separate fact from fiction is evaporating

Updated
Donald Trump told reporters yesterday he felt “somewhat” vindicated about his wiretap conspiracy theory following the bizarre press conferences yesterday from House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.). The president then turned to Twitter to promote messages saying how right he was.

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This was an odd reaction. There’s more to this story than the specific details in the president’s tweets, but the fact remains that when he was making the case for his conspiracy theory, Trump said he was personally targeted, and Nunes said the opposite. He said the surveillance was illegal, and Nunes said the opposite. He said Obama was personally involved, and Nunes said the opposite. He said the surveillance was before the election, and Nunes said the opposite. He said this was all part of a campaign-related scheme, and Nunes said the opposite.

In other words, Trump was “vindicated” to the extent that the president got literally every detail wrong.

I mention all of this because it’s emblematic of a leader who continues to struggle, in alarming ways, to separate fact from fiction. If you haven’t read Trump’s newly published interview with Time magazine’s Michael Scherer, it’s well worth your time. The questions about the president’s awareness of reality and appreciation of objective truths are only going to grow louder as a result of some of his more ridiculous comments.

He started by arguing that Hillary Clinton’s emails were on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, the Democratic primary race was “rigged against Bernie Sanders,” and that he was “totally right” about Brexit. All three of these claims are plainly and demonstrably wrong.

Trump went on to say his conspiracy theory about Barack Obama conducting illegal surveillance of him has merit because, “I have articles saying it happened.” He does not actually have articles saying it happened.

This exchange soon followed:
TIME: One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election…

TRUMP: Well I think I will be proved right about that too.

TIME: The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey…

TRUMP: Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.
When the conversation turned to Trump’s conspiracy theory about Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination, the president said, “Well that was in a newspaper…. I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper…. Why do you say that I have to apologize? I’m just quoting the newspaper.”

The “newspaper,” in this instance, was the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid with which Trump has an eerily friendly relationship.

It’d take hours to go point by point, fact-checking every error of fact and judgment, but Trump’s final comments stood as especially interesting: “I inherited a mess, I inherited a mess in so many ways… I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.”

And that’s amazing. In Trump’s mind, he’s the president, and he’s doing well, because he’s the president. That’s his response to questions about his uncontrollable lying and elusive credibility. As part of an interview in which the president expressed a tenuous understanding of the world around him, pointing to self-satisfying mirages that exist only in his mind, Trump’s final thought was, “I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.”

New York’s Jon Chait added, “This small line is an important historical marker of the bizarre and disconcerting reality into which American politics has plunged. Trump is not merely making an attack on truth here. He is attacking the idea of truth. His statement is a frontal challenge to the notion that objective reality can be separated from power.”

If those who were concerned about Trump being barking mad, this new interview really won’t help.

Donald Trump

Trump's ability to separate fact from fiction is evaporating

Updated