Facts aren’t facts; truth isn’t true; reality isn’t real.
This is where we are.
It’s no wonder that “Orwellian” is the most widely used adjective derived from the name of a writer. We are living in the most surreal of times.
But Orwell’s days may be numbered as “Trumpian” has swiftly emerged to describe the president’s apparent intent to de-fictionalize Orwell’s dystopian vision. Either that, or he’s just plain addled. Or, it must be considered, the alien being that has inhabited the former Donald Trump’s body has been slow to absorb the intricacies and nuances of the spoken word.
Trump’s daily scrimmages with the English language make Bushisms seem like “Bartlett’s Best.” When not syntactically challenged, they’re jaw-droppingly mystifying. What possibly could he have intended when he suggested to NBC’s Lester Holt that he doesn’t know for sure if there’s an FBI investigation into “this Russia thing”? So the president doesn’t believe what every intelligence agency has said and what he has personally been told in briefings?
Choosing one’s truth is the essence of Trumpian logic. But the emanations from the White House can no longer be dismissed as mere incompetence. Something is very wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Inside the Oval Office golden walls, where even flies dare not land, democracy rocks perilously between the forces of light and darkness.
How perfectly evocative one recent night when press secretary Sean Spicer huddled with staffers behind a bush after news broke of FBI Director James Comey’s firing. The beleaguered Spicer finally agreed to come out and speak to the gathered media, but only if they extinguished their lights.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness,” reads The Washington Post banner, seeming ever-more-apt by the day.
So what are we to make of Trump’s constantly shifting facts and truths? Is he lying? Pretending? Or is he so certain of America’s abbreviated attention span and willing self-delusion that he can speak nonsense with the same impunity as when he claimed he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base wouldn’t care?
Or is it just possible that his campaign really is guilty of collusion with Russia? Does Vladimir Putin have something on the American president? There may, indeed, be nothing, as Trump insists, but the president goes out of his way to appear guilty. How difficult is it to say why he fired Comey? The variety of explanations over a matter of days was obviously a flailing for justification. Trying to track them felt like trying to solve a maze where the cheese keeps moving.
First, it was Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation. Next it was the Justice Department’s recommendation. Then it was neither. Trump was always thinking about firing him, he himself said. (Note to staffers: Trump is always thinking about firing everyone.)
The latest to slip Trump’s tongue was that Comey was a “showboater,” which the showboater-in-chief would see as competition. Also, Comey had lost the confidence of the bureau, said Trump, despite FBI testimony to the contrary. Finally, Comey wasn’t good at his job, which would be a rational basis, if only he’d thought of it sooner. Most agree that Comey exercised poor judgment in issuing Clinton investigation updates that could have affected the election outcome.
Several months forward, however, what could have prompted Trump to take action? In a Trumpian world, stalled somewhere between second grade and a prep school locker room, even the ridiculous seems plausible. So, let’s try a wild one: Maybe Trump fired Comey for being taller, at 6-feet-8. In light of his infatuation with size, one can easily imagine that a 6-foot-3-inch Trump would resent having to look up to the guy who was investigating possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.
In the adult world, however, the eye tends to land on other likelihoods, as in Comey’s Trump campaign/Russia investigation, his recent request for more resources for the investigation, his denial of Trump’s claim that former President Obama had wiretapped his office, and his refusal during a dinner with Trump to pledge loyalty.
Trump disputes all of the above, surprising no one.
But Trump couldn’t leave it alone. Friday, he launched a Twitter tirade that seemed to threaten Comey, saying the fired director had better hope there’s no tapes of their conversations if he starts leaking to the press. Just as Trump projected himself in calling Comey a showboater, one could reasonably extrapolate that Trump is the one concerned about what next might surface.
Then again, maybe it’s just that alien thing messing with Trump’s mind.
KATHLEEN PARKER is a syndicated columnist of The Washington Post, a regular guest on television shows like The Chris Mathews Show and The O’Reilly Factor, and is a member of the Buckley School’s faculty. She won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary.