A year into Donald Trump’s presidency, we’ve thoroughly established what a liar he is.
We’ve talked less about how much truth he unwittingly tells.
I don’t mean the specific text of his discrete claims, which brim with inaccuracies and bubble with full-blown hallucinations. The man dwells in a loopy land of his own invention.
I’m referring to the timing and tone of his statements and tweets: when he pipes up; how he lashes out; what he deems worthy of his bragging, scheming and ire. He’s no paragon of deceit, which requires more plotting, patience and discipline than he could ever muster. He’s a geyser of revelations, and in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself, he’s the most honest president in my lifetime.
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It’s inadvertent but indisputable. He doesn’t hide his pettiness, bury his petulance or successfully distract us from his vulgarity and bigotry. He’s too needy an exhibitionist to wear a mask, too sloppy a manager to prevent leaks, and his universe is too chaotic for its mess not to spill ceaselessly into public view.
Secrets? Those are for administrations with less drama, lower ratings and fewer reporters on speed dial. We knew the madness of Trump’s court more quickly and reliably than we did the mischief of others, because his bickering enablers can’t keep anything to themselves. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” is both a chronicle of that and proof of it.
It has new tidbits about Ivanka, Jared, Melania. It has nothing surprising about Trump. We already knew how much junk he ate. We already knew how misinformed and hypersensitive he was. We already knew that aides had questions about his smarts and qualms about his stability. All of this was out there not just from the beginning of his presidency but from the start of his campaign, and some of it was out there long before that.
In fact the hell of his election wasn’t that he tricked American voters. It was that they’d fully seen the florid whole of him and supported him nonetheless.
Sure, he peddled positions that he wasn’t fixed to, made promises that he couldn’t keep, touted a populism that he was bound to jettison and professed a caring that was entirely counterfeit. More than a few voters were certainly duped by that.
But his ethics? His character? These were on stark and regular display: in the fraud of Trump University, in the denigration of John McCain’s military service, in the “Access Hollywood” tape and in so much more. I sometimes wonder if, perversely, he got points for the fact that he would never disillusion Americans. They had no illusions about him in the first place.
Trump’s truths are actually inhis lies. One of the whoppers was his tweet, just weeks after his election, that he had won the Electoral College in a landslide and had lost the popular vote only because of millions of illegal ballots.
The landslide was fiction. The millions were a mirage. But that tweet was a confession: I’m haunted by my nonexistent mandate and wobbly legitimacy, and I’m horrified that more Americans wanted that nasty woman.
On the second day of his presidency, during an unhinged speech at the CIA, he made false assertions about the weather for his inaugural remarks (“God looked down and he said, ‘We’re not going to let it rain’”), the sprawl of the crowd and the frequency of his appearance on the cover of Time magazine, which he mischaracterized as a record. But he gave a true glimpse of how desperately he needs to feel special and how shamelessly he'll recast history to make that happen.
Speaking of Time magazine, several of its journalists joined him for dinner at the White House, where he was served two scoops of ice cream to their one. Could there be a truer expression of his pleasure in a caste system that puts him on top?
He separately boasted in a Time interview, “I’m president and you’re not.” Could there be a more honest example of his puerility?
Indeed there could, and he gave it to us, too, mocking Kim Jong Un’s weight and height in a tweet that was like a snippet of peevish dialogue from a middle-school cafeteria.
With the television cameras rolling, he insists that he’s not a racist. But with plenty of lawmakers present, he confirms yet again that he is. How many other presidents have indulged in such careless candor?
Campaigns are now so long and media scrutiny is so intense that we have a pretty good bead on any and every modern president. But we nonetheless discover later on that they concealed dimensions of themselves and that we didn’t completely understand them.
How many Americans grasped, in real time, what an introverted loner George W. Bush could be? That came out down the road, as he took up painting and spent the bulk of many days in silence at the easel.
How many appreciated the robustness of Barack Obama’s appetite for celebrity and luxury? He gave unfettered vent to that once he left the White House and, in the months immediately thereafter, went yachting with Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen in Tahiti, kite surfing with Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands, rafting in Indonesia, golfing on the Scottish coast and biking under the Tuscan sun.
We’re more familiar with Trump after one year than we were with either Bush or Obama after eight. In the same way that his presidency zooms forward at warp speed, it operates at warp exposure. Even his adornments amount to admissions. Hair that aggressively swirled, a tan that steadfastly maintained and teeth that perfectly white don’t defy age so much as they advertise vanity, insecurity and the perks of wealth.
And to look beyond the ever-growing list of his fabrications – more than 2,000 in 12 months, according to one comprehensive count – is to behold a president who is honest despite himself.
Trump stands before us naked. But then he stood before us naked when he descended that escalator in Trump Tower and ranted about Mexican “rapists,” when he mimicked the gestures of a disabled reporter, when he thundered about “American carnage” and when he picked Twitter fights with the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the wife of a slain soldier and the father of a college basketball player.
It’s not merely that this emperor has no clothes. This emperor has no camouflage, at least none that’s consistent and effective. Syllable by syllable, he traffics in fantasy. But across the sum of his words and deeds, he cops to the chilling reality of his reign.