To commemorate his 100th day in office – a “ridiculous” marker created by the “fake news” media! – President Donald Trump gave a series of long interviews to a variety of news outlets. And, holy cow did he talk – and talk.
Let’s start with Trump’s interview with “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, the full text of which is making its way around the Internet this morning.
There’s a LOT in there – transcript is here – but one passage stood out to me as particularly outlandish. After Trump said, “You saw what happened with surveillance,” Dickerson asked the President whether he stood by his totally and completely unproven claim that then President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election – and that Obama was a “sick” and “bad” guy for doing so.
Here’s Trump’s response:
“I don’t stand by anything. I just– you can take it the way you want. I think our side’s been proven very strongly. And everybody’s talking about it. And frankly it should be discussed. I think that is a very big surveillance of our citizens. I think it’s a very big topic. And it’s a topic that should be number one. And we should find out what the hell is going on.”
“I don’t stand by anything”!!!!!
And Trump went on. “You can take – any way. You can take it any way you want,” he told Dickerson. And then: “I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.” Then he ended the interview.
So. Much. To. Say.
But, let’s briefly touch on the other interview being released today – with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito and set to air on SiriusXM radio later today.
A few things on that one.
First. Andrew Jackson died in 1845. It seems unlikely that he was “really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War” since the war didn’t start until 1861.
Second, the idea that “people don’t ask…why was there the Civil War” is, sort of, well, off since there have been roughly one gazillion essays and books written about just that subject. (I’d recommend the Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy.) Also, Trump’s question as to “Why could that one not have been worked out?” suggests that he isn’t very familiar with the literature of the Civil War and the whole, um, slavery thing.
Now. Take a step back. These two interviews have, to my mind, two things in common that tell us something important about Trump.
1. He did zero preparation for these interviews. Trump appears to be, essentially, winging it in both interviews. In the case of the CBS interview, he had to know that the topic of his baseless claim about wiretapping was going to come up. And yet, his answer is, to paraphrase, you have your thoughts and I have mine. In the interview with Zito, Trump has the most basic sense that Jackson is the president he most reminds people of. And so, he has latched on to the idea. But he lacks even a basic understanding of where Jackson fit in the timeline of the Civil War. And he doesn’t feel the need to do any research to make sure he gets the facts close to right. Which brings me to…
2. He makes up his own reality. In both interviews, Trump is, literally, making up a version of facts that suit him. In the Dickerson interview, he insists “our side has been proven very strongly” despite the fact that there is zero evidence to back up that claim. In fact, the opposite is true. Everyone from the FBI director to the former Director of National Intelligence to the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees have said there is no proof of any wiretapping of Trump Tower ordered by the Obama White House.
In the Zito interview, Trump wants to make the case that if Jackson had been president the Civil War wouldn’t have happened in order to make the case that he, like Jackson, will be able to make deals and avert crises by dint of his unique background. That the facts don’t back up that assertion is besides the point for Trump; it’s real to him, and therefore it’s a version of the truth.
To me, the most telling line in either of the Trump interviews is this one to Dickerson: “I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.” What Trump is doing here is conflating opinions with facts. The facts do not come close to bearing out his claims on surveillance. But, if you make opinion and fact synonymous you can do or say whatever you want because, in the immortal words of Jeffrey Lebowski, “yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion, man.”
Opinions, of course, aren’t facts. The problem is that Trump doesn’t know or doesn’t care about that. And his supporters believe whatever he tells them to believe. Which means we are in a post-fact political world. And that is scary as hell.