In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character explains that he has come to view Denmark as a prison because he’s trapped by his knowledge of the evil deed that brought his uncle to power. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” he muses to his puzzled friends.
At a broader level, the quote is about how perspective can change everything. And while Donald Trump has given us no reason to think he has any familiarity with the Bard, his latest interview has shifted my viewpoint. Trump may not be a Shakespeare scholar himself, but he’s unwittingly provided a vivid modern-day example of Hamlet’s predicament, and a new, stunningly literal interpretation of the line.
In a Wednesday night interview with Sean Hannity, the Fox News host asked his friend about his repeated claims on Truth Social that he had already declassified the documents that prompted the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago.
“Is there a process? What was your process to declassify?” Hannity asked.
“There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” Trump replied. “If you’re the president of the United States you can declassify just by saying ‘it’s declassified,’ even by thinking about it.”
Throughout this raid saga, everyone has been focused on verifiable statements and actions. Days after the search, Trump released a statement claiming that he had a “standing order” to declassify any materials moved to his residence. Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton told the New York Times that was “almost certainly a lie,” adding, “If he were to say something like that, you would have to memorialize that, so that people would know it existed.”
Trump’s attorneys have not asserted in court that he issued any such “standing order.” Earlier this week, the federal judge tasked with reviewing the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago chided Trump’s legal team for trying to cast doubt on the documents’ classification status without providing any concrete evidence of declassification. “My view of it is: You can’t have your cake and eat it,” said Judge Raymond Dearie. Now it seems Trump is arguing that the president’s powers of declassification are so vast that he shouldn’t have to prove anything in court.
So can the president declassify solely in his mind? The New York Times says the question is both “borderline incoherent” and largely irrelevant, as “none of the three criminal laws cited in a search warrant as the basis of the investigation depend on whether documents technically contain classified information.”
From Trump’s perspective, however, the idea that the president can declassify simply by thinking about it changes everything. How is he supposed to defend himself when people reject his “facts” simply because they don’t exist in the physical realm?
Trump’s conundrum goes beyond the declassification question. Later in the clip, the former president dropped a bombshell about Hillary Clinton’s emails, which even Hannity struggled to comprehend.
TRUMP: There’s also a lot of speculation because of what they did, the severity of the FBI coming and raiding Mar-a-Lago — were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails that were deleted, but they are around someplace?
HANNITY: Wait, wait, you’re not saying you had it.
TRUMP: No no, they may be saying — they may have thought that it was in there.
While the rest of us are out here playing checkers, Trump is playing five-dimensional chess. We’re just looking at the list of what the Feds told the court they were looking for, but Trump is also considering what they might have thought they could find — which is, obviously, Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
Imagine how frustrating it must be for Trump to try to try to reason with people who aren’t blessed with his mental powers. To paraphrase Shakespeare, heavy is the head that wears the MAGA hat.
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