Editor’s Note: This article is part of our coverage of The Atlantic Festival. Learn more and watch festival sessions here.
Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump was asked about whether there would be a peaceful transfer of power. Trump replied—well, it was a bit hard to tell. Trump’s critics heard the president saying he wanted to throw out votes and wouldn’t relinquish power. His defenders conceded that he sounded stupid but simply meant that he intended to win.
That created a day of controversy, as pundits and fact-checkers tried to sort through Trumpian word salad and figure out what he said and what it meant.
This is no way to run a functioning democracy, but it is—if you believe Jared Kushner—all part of the president’s plan. As Bob Woodward explained to Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg Thursday at The Atlantic Festival, Kushner (who is both a senior adviser and son-in-law to the president) believes these controversies benefit the president by amplifying his talking points.
“Kushner’s explanation is, ‘The controversy elevates the message,’” Woodward said. “If you have a controversy that is more or less on your side, it’s going to help you.”
Take the economy. Trump is prone to exaggeration about the state of the economy, especially prior to the coronavirus pandemic—routinely labeling it the greatest in American or world history. Such claims are wildly overblown, but that not only doesn’t matter, but is part of the point. The hyperbole invites disputes from Democrats and fact-checkers, which is fine with the White House, because this merely prolongs the focus on the economy. Meanwhile (Kushner maintains), ordinary Americans hear the dispute and understand that Trump is exaggerating, but don’t really care about the academic truth.