In last year’s presidential election, reality was a foe Donald Trump was determined to overcome. When the facts said the unemployment rate was low and shrinking, the Republican candidate said it was high and growing. When the facts said the U.S. murder rate was at a 50-year low, Trump said it was at a 45-year high.
The point, of course, was to replace reality with a more politically convenient version, which better suited Trump’s ambitions for power. Much of the country bought into the fiction and we’re now living with the results.
But if 2016 was about Donald Trump’s efforts to create an alternative reality for the electorate, 2017 may be about the president’s efforts to create an alternative reality for himself.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trump has suggested privately to multiple people that the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women, may not be authentic. The Washington Post reported overnight that this is just part of the president’s descent into a place where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred.
President Trump has expressed certainty that the special-counsel probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia will be finished by the end of the year, complete with an exoneration from Robert S. Mueller III, according to several friends who have spoken with him in recent days.
Trump has dismissed his historically low approval ratings as “fake” and boasted about what he calls the unprecedented achievements of his presidency, even while chatting behind the scenes, saying no president since Harry Truman has accomplished as much at this point.
Trump also has occasionally questioned whether the “Access Hollywood” video of him crowing about assaulting women was doctored or inauthentic, asking confidants whether they think the sexual braggart on tape sounds like him, according to two people who have heard him make the comments.
A separate New York Times piece this morning noted that people close to the president concede “he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact,” including questions about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which Trump apparently brought up in a recent meeting with a U.S. senator.
The article added, “Mr. Trump’s journeys into the realm of manufactured facts have been frequent enough that his own staff has sought to nudge friendly lawmakers to ask questions of Mr. Trump in meetings that will steer him toward safer terrain.”
In other words, the president’s strained relationship with reality is so problematic, White House aides have to take deliberate steps to accommodate his embrace of wild-eyed nonsense.
What’s left is a portrait of a confused amateur president trying to govern while openly hostile to facts. Trump has already admitted that the “Access Hollywood” recording is real; the Mueller special counsel probe won’t end next month; polls are real; this administration has no meaningful accomplishments; and Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. You recognize these details as true and so do I.
But Donald J. Trump does not.
Earlier this year, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote, “My worry is the president of the United States is barking mad.” Those worries should be more acute now.