Can Trump separate fact from fiction?
WASHINGTON — The most worrisome moment for me in a very ominous week was not President Trump’s bizarre rant about crowd size, his bogus claims about election fraud or his moves toward bringing back torture, blocking refugees and provoking a trade war with Mexico.
The most troubling moment was when he spoke about the weather.
“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”
I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?
I watched a time-lapse 360-degree video of the inauguration: Not a single break in the clouds. I checked with my colleagues Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz of the Capital Weather Gang, who provided me the satellite images from before, during and after the address: A mass of unbroken cloud cover over the entire Washington region. They showed me the radar images: A band of rain approaching just before Trump’s address, crossing the area while Trump spoke, then departing to the east as he finished; there was no “pouring” after he left.
I rehash this weather history because it’s not subject to debate. This is tantamount to Trump declaring black is white or day is night. It was overcast, and he declared that it was “really sunny.”
This disconnect from reality is my biggest fear about Trump, more than any one policy he has proposed. My worry is the president of the United States is barking mad.
Last summer, observing a series of Trump falsehoods that were easily disproved, I wrote that these may not be deliberate “lies,” that Trump “may not be able to tell fact from fiction.” He didn’t just spout conspiracy theories about Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11, or about a U.S. general who executed Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig blood. He often claimed he never said or did things contradicted by his own previous words and actions: that he didn’t “know anything about David Duke,” that he “never mocked” a disabled reporter, that he opposed the Iraq invasion “loud and strong” from the start, and so forth.
“More than anyone else I have ever met,” Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter for “The Art of the Deal,” told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer at the time, “Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
My Washington Post colleague Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger, recently raised the prospect that Trump might eventually need to be declared unfit to serve under the 25th Amendment if he can’t “separate what he wants to believe and what exists.”
That’s why his assertion that it was “really sunny” during his inaugural address is so terrifying.
That’s why it’s unnerving that Trump not only decided that he saw a million or 1.5 million people watching his inauguration but also that he pressured the head of the National Park Service to support his fantasy.
That’s why it’s frightening that Trump not only embraces the fantasy that millions voted illegally but also that he supports the falsehood by citing a Pew Center on the States report that says nothing about voter fraud — and by claiming pro golfer Bernhard Langer was turned away from voting in Florida while other, suspicious-looking people were permitted to cast provisional ballots. Langer, a German citizen, can’t vote in the United States, and it turns out he witnessed no such thing.
When Trump caused international havoc with tweets about China, North Korea and others, there was speculation that he was pursuing the “madman theory” to unsettle adversaries by making them think he’s crazy.
He’s doing such a convincing job of it that I worry being a madman isn’t Trump’s theory but his reality.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank. (c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group