A tale of two tweets:
On Friday, President Trump declined to release the Democratic rebuttal of the Devin Nunes memo, the dud of a document that had purported to blow the lid on a vast FBI conspiracy against the president. Trump’s thin rationale, as he explained on Saturday, was that he was responding to the concerns of Justice Department and FBI officials, who warned about exposure of classified information. This, despite the fact that he approved the release of the Republican version over the loud objections of the DOJ, which said doing so would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
Of course, pretty much everyone knows that Trump’s hesitancy to put out the Democratic version of events is about protecting himself and nothing else.
Then, on Saturday, Trump tweeted about his disapproval of the #MeToo movement, complaining that “due process” was being trampled in the pursuit of vigilante sexual justice.
Trump’s line of thinking on this point was as risible as his memo reasoning. From the president’s longtime demonization of the Central Park Five (even after they were exonerated) to his queasy birther quest to … well, most of the other things he’s said and done in the last several years, Trump has clearly never concerned himself with evidence, reasonable doubt, or any of the components that make up the foundation of law in America.
Again, pretty much everyone knows that he doesn’t care about “due process” at all.
These instances are case studies in Trumpian psychology. As is often the case with the president, it’s hard to tell whether Trump himself is aware of how ludicrous these premises are — whether Trump needs to believe that there is some kind of intellectual justification behind what he says and does, or whether he’s just trying to provoke his opponents into fits of rage by being deliberately perverse. Though it’s been demonstrated that the president can cut back on lying when he really needs to, the question of how completely he believes his own bullshit is one that may never fully be answered.
But here’s a thought: Why does the president even need to go through the motions of rationalizing his most dubious ideas?
As everyone knows, Trump has revolutionized what it’s possible to get away with in politics: the incendiary remarks you can make, the brazen lies you can spin, the undisguised racism you can espouse. He bellows what used to be whispered, and has faced surprisingly few consequences for it.
Yet despite proving that straightforward demagoguery is a viable path to the presidency, he still sometimes goes through the motions of concealing his true nature behind a screen of respectability, like a pre-Trump politician would.
This seems unnecessary.
If Trump tweeted that he is against releasing the Democratic memo simply because he thinks the opposition party is trying to take him down, it would be consistent with his previously expressed beliefs — that the FBI is out to get him, that he is the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, and so on. Thanks to Trump’s own advancement of these opinions, they have become mainstream among the Republican Party. So why the need to disguise them?
Similarly, if Trump simply said, “I’m skeptical of any woman who tells a story of abuse” — a sentiment that reflects his true beliefs — it probably wouldn’t really change anyone’s opinion of the president. Trump, after all, has made it clear on camera many times that his sympathies lie with accused men, not abused women. It’s not like he has a pristine reputation to hang onto.
Such brutal candor in these kinds of scenarios would inspire a lot of head-shaking from the people who already loathe Trump. But it would probably go over well with Trump’s base, who above all treasure his ability to speak freely and sincerely, to bare his corroded soul in ways that resonate with them, liberal piety be damned.
There are, of course, some arenas in which the president’s sincerity could damage him. (His interview with Lester Holt in which he admitted to firing James Comey to stifle the Russia investigation comes to mind.) But generally speaking, there would be little cost for Trump to tell his truth, his way. And it would spare us the spectacle of his bad-faith and plainly ridiculous trollishness. That would amount to a small victory, yes. But a victory nonetheless.