As my colleague David Graham put it:
Time and again, Scherer asks Trump about statements that he has made without evidence, and time and again, Trump insists that something that happened later retroactively justifies the claims he has made, effectively arguing that lies have been alchemically transformed into truths after the fact.
As a political tactic, the refusal to acknowledge any inconvenient fact or contrary claim has its short-term advantages. “Trump has discovered something about epistemology in the 21st century,” Scherer wrote. “The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better.”
But this is not a novel discovery, not some peculiar feature of our contemporary environment. “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” the satirist Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”
The trouble for Trump is that, sooner or later, the truth catches up. As a real-estate developer, he could simply skip 10 floors in a building, and announce it stood 68 stories tall. As an entertainer, he could rely on the selectively edited reality of television. His audiences would willfully suspend their disbelief. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,” he wrote in Art of the Deal. “I call it truthful hyperbole.” And that insight helped him succeed as a candidate, too.
Even as a president, Trump’s inclination to trust only the stories that affirm his beliefs, and disregard the haters and the losers, is often an asset. His predecessor was haunted by a painful, sometimes paralyzing, awareness of precedents, constraints, and third-order consequences. As my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, President Obama grew “steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events” over the course of his terms in office.
Trump, by contrast, is willing to discard the expert consensus and act on his gut. Most presidents have deferred to their economic advisers and declined to prevent specific plants from closing, fearing they might set unsustainable precedents. Trump simply acted, preserving factory jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana in November. He didn’t simply write them off as the collateral damage of creative destruction, and the workers there love him for it.
But if it can be liberating, it can also be crippling. Trump had his press secretary summon the press to insist that they believe him, and not their own, lying eyes, about the size of his inaugural crowd. One court after another has restrained his executive orders limiting travel, partially because he has disregarded advice to cease commenting on the cases. His unsubstantiated claim that Obama wiretapped his phones has embroiled his administration in weeks of controversy. Trump’s refusal to credit information that contradicts his gut instincts may help him persuade others to embrace his mistaken views, but it cannot possibly alter the underlying facts themselves. And as my colleague James Fallows warns, that’s likely to have disastrous consequences when questions of national security are at stake.