There is almost nothing real about “reality TV.” All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like “Bachelor” or “Celebrity Apprentice” are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, President-elect Donald Trump’s previous claim to fame.
Welcome to the reality-TV presidency. Nothing Trump said is to be taken literally, nor evaluated for its truth content. His surrogates have made that clear. Once and future sidekick Corey Lewandowski recently admonished journalists at Harvard University.
“This is the problem with the media,” he scolded. “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people ... you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
So when Trump claimed that he saw Muslims in Jersey City celebrating 9/11 on TV, he was just blowing smoke like some guy in a bar. And so what if he kept his opposition to invading Iraq a secret?
When Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter on national TV ... Well, who are you going to think, the president-elect or your lying eyes?
Then there’s the president-elect’s latest whopper. Providing zero evidence, he claimed that “millions of people” voted illegally last November, and that “serious voter fraud” had taken place in Virginia, New Hampshire and California — three states he lost.
Otherwise, see, Trump thinks he’d have won the popular vote decisively, instead of trailing Hillary Clinton nationally by 2.5 million votes — a bit more than 2 percent. Far from being the people’s choice, Trump eked out one of the narrowest electoral wins in U.S. history.
An ordinary egomaniac would fake humility and try to win the citizenry over. But that’s not the Trump way. When journalists challenged his assertion, try to think that the future president re-tweeted one “Filibuster,” a Beverly Hills 16-year-old: “Pathetic — you have no sufficient evidence that Donald Trump did not suffer from voter fraud, shame! Bad reporter.”
No, and nobody can prove that there are no unicorns in Oklahoma. Or that Melania Trump isn’t a Russian spy. Is it that Trump has no grasp of elementary logic or that he thinks most voters don’t? Either way, the nation is screwed. Bad president-elect!
GOP stalwarts — Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Reince Priebus — were all over the talk shows making variants of the same claim: Just because there’s no evidence of voter fraud doesn’t mean it might not be true. Sure, and Melania Trump might be Vladimir Putin’s lover.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers tried to stop Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s (pointless) Michigan recount by arguing “(a)ll available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
But it was left for Trump spokesblonde Scottie Nell Hughes to push this nonsense to its ultimate end. Appearing on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show,” Hughes chastised unimaginative pundits: “One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’ — they’re not really facts ... Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true.
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”
Certainly not in Trumpworld. To be fair, it wasn’t clear Hughes thinks this is a desirable state of affairs. But she was reacting to a question about James Fallows’ blog at The Atlantic, documenting and rebutting Trump’s serial prevarications. Last time I checked, the list was up to 155.
Things are getting serious. Fallows posted one American diplomat’s reaction to Trump’s voter fraud falsehood: “Embassy staff in China or Russia are bound to be told, ‘It doesn’t look like your governmental system is doing so well, does it? See, your future President is saying that your elections are rotten with fraud.’
“What could our people then say? For the sake of truth and the honor of the country, they can’t agree; but to disagree is to call their future boss a flagrant public liar. That he is in fact such a liar is, in that situation, beside the point. Our ability to advocate for our country is being recklessly endangered simply to satisfy Trump’s vanity.”
Meanwhile, hippy-dippy leftists used to be accused of feckless relativism. Now it’s so-called “conservatives” who argue against objective standards of evidence and proof.
Writing in 1943, Orwell thought it all came down to power-worship. Contemplating Hitler and Stalin, he wrote that, “If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.”
But for all the boasting and bullying of Trump supporters, Americans do expect better of their president. Already mistrusted by the majority, if Trump doesn’t clean up his act — a psychological impossibility, I fear — they’ll soon want to change the channel.