Thursday, March 23, 2017


I understand why Time magazine would want to do a cover story on Donald Trump's relationship to the truth. But the decision to build the story around an interview with Trump by reporter Michael Scherer was a mistake, because it gives Trump a chance to relitigate many of his most outrageous lies, to the near-certain delight of Republican voters.

Trump knows the subject of the upcoming story, so he's ready for Scherer:
SCHERER: Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.
This is a classic Gish Gallop.
The Gish Gallop ... is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it's unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop.
When he starts with this, Trump clearly throws Scherer off stride. Scherer never recovers -- or maybe it's just that he's so afraid of losing access that he's too polite to challenge Trump seriously. In any case, Trump also knows how to filibuster, which leaves Scherer stammering:
Did you see the Wall Street Journal opinion page today, the editorial page?

I thought it was, I thought it was a disgrace that they could write that.

But let me just, the hypothetical they started with, you have to announce to the country or to the world that some serious national security event has happened, and…

The country believes me. Hey. I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive basketball arena. There wasn’t a seat, they had to send away people. I went to Tennessee four nights ago. We had a packed house, they had to send away thousands of people. You saw that, right. Did you see that?

Yes I did.

The country’s not buying it, it is fake media. And the Wall Street Journal is a part of it.

Ok. So you don’t worry that your credibility, that if you’ve cited things that later turn out to be wrong, based on anonymous sources that that hurts you.

Name what’s wrong! I mean, honestly.

Fox News said…

Brexit. Wait a minute. I predicted Brexit. What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out. And when Germany was over here I said, we are going to have a great relationship with Germany but you have to pay your NATO bills, and they don’t even dispute it, ok. So what have I said that is wrong? Everyone, I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right. I got attacked on Brexit, when I was saying, I said long before the day before, I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that. I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that U.K. will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.
Scherer gives it his best shot when he asks Trump about his wiretap tweets, but Trump counters with repeated references to Devin Nunes:
But there’s other things you said that haven’t panned out. The peg for this story is the wiretapping hearing on Monday, in which [FBI Director James] Comey and [NSA Director Mike] Rogers testified about your tweets there.

Yeah well if you’d look at, in fact I’ll give you the front page story, and just today I heard, just a little while ago, that Devin Nunes had a news conference, did you hear about this, where they have a lot of information on tapping. Did you hear about that?

I have not, no.

Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance. And today, [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Devin Nunes just had a news conference. Now probably got obliterated by what’s happened in London. But just had a news conference, and here it is one of those things....

So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?

No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference. Devin Nunes had a news conference....
I half-wonder whether Nunes was deployed yesterday specifically to give Trump cover for this interview. Trump's old-school. I'm sure he takes the idea of a Time magazine cover story very, very seriously.

(And we know from a February Washington Post story that the White House specifically asked Nunes to go to the media and spout the Trump party line. Nunes was, of course, a member of the Trump transition team.)

Look, if you're left-leaning, your social media feeds are full of pieces saying "Here are all the screwy things Trump said in that Time interview." But for nearly all Republicans and for many people in the middle, the interview was Trump's opportunity to insist that the press is evil and he's always vindicated. I know it would have been a journalistic heresy not to interview him for this story, but I think Scherer shouldn't have done it. We've heard all we need to hear from Trump. Scherer gave him yet another chance to drive the discussion, and he took full advantage.

As for the cover story itself, Scherer's description in the interview is accurate:
But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.
Translation: not Trump is a congenital liar but I am in awe of how effectively Trump uses lies.

From the cover story:
Trump has in this way brought to the Oval Office an entirely different set of assumptions about the proper behavior of a public official, and introduced to the country entirely new rules for public debate....

Through it all, he has presented himself as the last honest man, and among his fervent supporters, he hits notes that harmonize with the facts of their lives as they deeply feel them.... Despite the luxury and ease of his own life, he seems genuine in his belief that the system is rigged, and that life is a zero-sum game: no one wins without someone else losing. Reality, for the reality-show mogul, is something to be invented episode by episode....

Trump's alternative reality is dark, divisive and pessimistic, and it tends to position him and his supporters as heroic victims of injustice. Despite this--or maybe because of it--his reckless assertions are weapons that often work. He commandeers the traditional news cycle and makes visceral connections with voters. By taking on Obama over his birth certificate, Trump charmed a right-wing constituency and ratcheted himself to the level of White House--ready. By scorning good manners to attack border crossers and Muslims, Trump showed solidarity with the politically incorrect and advertised his iconoclasm. By flouting fact-checkers and making journalists his enemy, he is driving home the theme that his turbulent presidency is a struggle to the death with a despised Washington elite.
Building on the work of decades of Republican demagogues, Trump has completed the task of making civil discourse in America impossible. But please stop describing that as if it's in any way admirable.

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