The Trump administration seems intent on tossing recent history down the memory hole. Admittedly, Americans have never been known for their strong grasp of facts about their past. Still, as we struggle to keep up with the constantly shifting explanations and pronouncements of the new administration, it becomes ever harder to remember the events of yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.
The Credibility Swamp
Trump and his spokespeople routinely substitute “alternative facts” for what a friend of mine calls consensus reality, the world that most of us recognize. Whose inaugural crowd was bigger, Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s? It doesn’t matter what you remember, or even what’s in the written accounts or photographic record. What matters is what the administration now says happened then. In other words, for Trump and his people, history in any normal sense simply doesn’t exist, and that’s a danger for the rest of us. Think of the Trumpian past as a website that can be constantly updated to fit the needs of the present. You may believe you still remember something that used to be there, but it’s not there now. As it becomes increasingly harder to find, can you really trust your own memory?
In recent months, revisions of that past have sometimes come so blindingly fast that the present has simply been overrun, as was true with the firing of FBI director James Comey. First, the president ordered up some brand new supporting documents from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. These were designed to underpin his line that Comey was fired on their recommendation—for being “unfair” to Hillary Clinton. Then, even as his surrogates were out peddling that very story, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that, “regardless of [Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.” And he explained why:
And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
Which rationale for Comey’s departure is true? Both? Neither? What is “truth” after all?