Redefining Reality

"The Trump presidency is going to be one of style over substance, if past behavior is any predictor."

Donald Trump is never going to stop being Donald Trump. I think that much should be obvious to all by now. What this means for his term in office is really anyone’s guess at the moment, but what concerns me the most is how he may just continue to redefine reality to suit his own ego’s needs. This is currently on display in the calls for investigating Russia’s hacking during the election. Team Trump seems content to define their own reality, which might be stated: “It’s just another sore-loser complaint from Democrats and the mainstream media ― they can’t accept the fact that Trump won, so they’re making stuff up about Russia interfering in the election to feel better, that’s all.” Trump rejects the consensus of what is now the entire intelligence-gathering apparatus of the federal government, because he doesn’t like what they’re reporting to him.

The importance of Trump’s choice to define how he thinks the world works (as opposed to the reality on the ground) is probably going to have a bigger impact in the future, though. We won’t have another presidential election (for the Russians to meddle in) for four years, but in the meantime there will be all sorts of things happening around the world that Trump will be briefed on and expected to act upon. Some foreign policy crisis will erupt, which is when Trump’s refusal to believe the intelligence experts could become very dangerous indeed. If Trump really believes (just to pick an example from the campaign) that Russia isn’t already in the Crimea, that is going to have real consequences.

Campaign gaffes are one thing, being president is another. But for all those still clinging to the hope that Trump will somehow “pivot” to being presidential may be disappointed, once again. During the campaign, Trump could choose to surround himself with anyone he wanted, and he could also choose to ignore anyone and anything he didn’t want to think about. That’s no longer going to be true ― there will be some sober-minded people who do believe in hard cold reality advising President Trump. But will that be enough to change Trump’s mind if he’s already settled into a belief that runs counter to the actual facts? We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Trump presidency is going to be one of style over substance, if past behavior is any predictor. Trump starts with a half-truth and repeats it in his own mind so much that he magnifies it into a sweeping statement. Watch how fast “I saved all the jobs at Carrier” (a half-truth, since he only saved half the jobs) becomes something like “I saved all the jobs in Indiana” or perhaps even morphs into “I saved all the manufacturing jobs and stopped companies from moving overseas.” If Trump believes he’s checked the box off and can move on to other things, then that is his reality and nothing anyone can say may convince him otherwise.

Not all Republicans are buying into Trump’s spin, but enough are to make me wonder how much future reality will also just be completely denied rather than dealt with in any meaningful way. Many Republicans are getting so invested in Donald Trump’s future that they will be happy to reaffirm any mythmaking the president engages in, because their own political future is dependent upon believing Trump’s doing a good job.

This could eventually head in one of two directions. Either enough of his own party refuses to believe what Trump tells them rather than the facts in front of their own eyes, or the myth will become the accepted version of history.

We’ve seen this happen before, although it was a much more gradual process which was launched after the fact (rather than in real time). There’s an excellent book by Will Brunch which explores this phenomenon, titled: Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion Of The Reagan Legacy. Conservatives did such an excellent job of mythmaking over the Reagan legacy that the real Ronald Reagan pretty much disappeared from memory, replaced by the mythical Saint Ronald of Reagan (who never did anything wrong). Ask any conservative today, if you doubt this. Try telling them “Reagan actually raised taxes a bunch of times” to see their blank looks or outright disbelief ― which just proves how the myth has supplanted the reality.

Donald Trump, unlike Reagan (mythical or real), is not going to wait around for this to happen after he leaves office. He’s going to be Mythmaker in Chief, in fact. He will probably be pretty successful (as he sees it, at any rate) at rewriting history as it happens to make himself look good. Again, past performance indicates this is inevitable, because Trump is just not going to stop being Trump when sworn into office.

It will be interesting to watch Republican Trump critics in Congress, some of whom are now calling for a full investigation over the Russian hacking. John McCain is not going to change his entire life’s viewpoint towards Russia just because Trump offers up an alternate reality. Clashes like this over Russia will likely continue, if Trump charts a drastically different American policy towards Putin.

Donald Trump is going to be faced with a lot of tough choices. It’s part of the job of being president, after all. Some problems are going to be almost impossible to solve in a good way (Syria, for instance). Angry tweets aren’t going to be enough, to put this in the proper perspective.

Some have voiced concern over the number of generals Trump will have in his cabinet. I actually think it’ll be a good thing for Trump to be hearing from them on a regular basis. Generals tend towards the pragmatic ― they know that some things work, and some do not. They know the limits of military power, for the most part. They also know that presidential decisions can put a whole lot of lives at risk within the military.

It’s going to take a lot of Republicans, both inside the Trump administration and in Congress, to convince Trump to change his mind on anything ― that’s my guess, at any rate. If all the generals and spymasters and senators tell him over and over that he’s just not seeing reality, then maybe Trump can be convinced of the actual facts. Or maybe he’ll just ignore them all anyway and refuse to admit a problem even exists. Denial of problematic reality is comforting, after all. It’s a whole lot easier to deny a problem exists than to have to make a tough choice. Myths exist because they’re fun to believe in ― and nobody has more fun believing his own myths than Donald Trump.

 

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