Trump Time Capsule #117: Chinese Climate Change

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Donald Trump on Twitter

In my current debate story I quote a body-language expert named Jack Brown on a surprising aspect of Donald Trump’s performance skills. Brown argues that while Trump’s gestures and expressions seem unusually operatic, they actually cover a smaller range of variation that most people’s do. You can go to the article for the rationale, but the non-obvious upshot, according to Brown, is that it is easier for Trump to lie “convincingly” than for most other people. There are fewer “tells” in his face and expression.

This is a way of setting up, for the record, another extraordinary aspect of Trump’s debate performance last night: his reeling off statements that he must have known would be trivially easy to disprove.

In the NYT today, David Leonhardt has a formidable list of Trump’s misstatements in the debate, with the straightforward headline “The Lies Trump Told.” It follows “A Week of Whoppers,” by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, in the NYT three days ago.

Here’s just a single illustration that jumped out at me from the debate:

This exchange, which in real life involved Trump’s interrupting Clinton, came during one of the rare mentions of climate issues:

CLINTON: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real.

TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that.

CLINTON: I think science is real.

TRUMP: I do not say that.

Even as Trump was saying that, his own personal Twitter feed was still showing (and as I type still is) the message above, and the one below. (As a reminder, you can search the whole vast corpus of Trump tweets here.)

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Is this the most consequential lie that took place during the debate? No. By my lights, his claim to have opposed the Iraq war is more significant; so too is his risible argument that he can’t release his tax returns because they are “under audit.”

But this one stood out to me because it was so blatant and bald—like his earlier claims that the Koch brothers had sought a meeting with him (which they immediately denied), and that the NFL had sent him a letter complaining that the debates were scheduled head-to-head against football games (which the NFL immediately denied).

Has Trump convinced himself these things are true? Does he imagine no one can check? Has he forgotten? Does he just not care? I don’t know. All public figures shade the truth. But what we’re seeing from Trump is something that in my experience has no precedent.