Donald Trump lies so prolifically, and in such a transparent manner, that it’s easy to get dulled by those lies. They come in unrelenting waves, almost every day, and by the time the media have fully unpacked lie No. 4,538, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate is a thousand lies ahead. But campaign observers should resist the tendency to get jaded: Some of Trump’s lies really are quite impressive, even by the admittedly low standards of honesty during presidential campaigns, and should be appreciated for their audacity and for the way they gleefully rip at the fabric of reality and then stitch it sloppily back together in a more Trump-aggrandizing pattern.
A truly vintage example popped up in Tuesday’s BuzzFeed article detailing Trump’s attempts to raise money from, and forge potential business relationships with, Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s late, brutal former dictator. The relationship between the two has been a source of curiosity given Trump’s flip-flopping on the American co-led NATO military effort against Qaddafi’s regime that led to his death in 2011 — at some points, Trump has said he supported that intervention; at others, he has described it as a mistake and used it as a cudgel to strike at Hillary Clinton.
In the story, reporters Daniel Wagner and Aram Roston explain that, prior to his 2009 visit to the United Nations General Assembly, Qaddafi and his entourage were seeking a place to set up the “large, North African–style tent” that Qaddafi liked to sleep under when he traveled. As anyone who has attempted to set up a giant North African–style tent in New York City can attest, it can be a hassle. But Qaddafi eventually got hooked up with Trump and his “230-acre estate in the wealthy suburb of Bedford in Westchester County,” Seven Springs.
In exchange for some cash — and, evidence strongly suggests, in an attempt to bring himself closer to Qaddafi, who had access to funds and business connections Trump openly coveted — Trump allowed his estate to be partially taken over by a throng of 20 members of Qaddafi’s entourage, five staffers from Libya’s American PR firm, and five Secret Service agents (standard practice when a foreign leader is visiting). For two weeks leading up to Qaddafi’s arrival, the visitors did their thing: The tent was erected. Toilets were retrofitted to make them more Libyan, since “pressured hoses … are used instead of toilet paper in Libya.” A “fuzzy white lamb” was procured from Queens to be sacrificed upon Qaddafi’s arrival, as one does. Mutassim Qaddafi, one of Qaddafi’s sons, was there.
Unfortunately for this rental agreement, the tent was visible over the estate’s walls and from the air, attracting the attention of news crews. Soon thereafter — perhaps as a result of oversensitive NIMBYs who for whatever reason didn’t want a Libyan dictator sleeping under a tent down the street from them — “the town of Bedford issued a stop-work order, based on a local ordinance against building temporary structures without a permit.” That was it: The Libyans and their friends packed up and went home (the lamb’s fate is unknown). After they departed, Trump called Qaddafi’s PR firm “to ask for a meeting with the dictator about business opportunities in the nation.”
Trump tells a very different story about what happened, Wagner and Roston explain in their article:
At first, the Trump Organization publicly denied that it knew who the renter was. Yet later, Trump took credit for shutting the site down, saying he had asked the Libyans to leave. Trump said he was “proud” that Qaddafi never got to visit the site, especially after Libya paid Trump “a lot of money for one night.”
Speaking to Fox News in 2011, Trump said: “I don’t want to use the word ‘screwed,’ but I screwed him. That’s what we should be doing.”
Yet sources pointed out that representatives of the Libyan government occupied the estate for two weeks before Bedford kicked them out. Trump also appears to have exaggerated his income from the deal, suggesting in an interview that he received well over $200,000. Libya’s representatives paid Trump $150,000 under the lease, according to Herbert, who signed the document. Later, when Trump asked to meet with Qaddafi, he demanded an additional $50,000 for the tent-related troubles, Herbert said, but Qaddafi’s representatives refused to pay extra.
To review: Trump eagerly invites a dictator onto his own property in exchange for some of that dictator’s cash and a chance at future business access, allowing the dictator’s people to effectively take over part of his property and spend two weeks setting up shop. The town finds out and says, “Nope,” scuppering the deal. Then Trump takes credit for driving the dictator away.
It’s fun, just as a thought exercise, to imagine what would have to be true for this story line to make any sense. For example, this chain of events could be part of the plot of a gonzo comedy in which a mogul’s incompetent cousin invites a dictator and his entourage to that mogul’s estate without his knowledge, perhaps expecting the mogul to be away on business. Imagine a shot of Trump pulling up to Seven Springs, home early from his trip, and noticing the tent peeking over the wall. Trump bursts into his mansion, which is packed with unfamiliar Libyans who look up quizzically at him: “What the hell is this? Who are you people? Get out of my house!” The condemned lamb pads up to Trump and affectionately nuzzles his leg. “And get this lamb out of here!”
Back in the real world, this is just another glimpse at Trump’s constant lying, yes, but also at what appears to be a deeply psychological need to explain just about every single situation, no matter how bad it looks for him, in the context of A Total Trump Triumph, regardless of the logical contortions required. As they almost certainly don’t say in Libya, a lie like the one Trump told about his relationship with Qaddafi requires some real chutzpah.