A long weekend with lots of executive time, simmering tensions with politicians of both parties, a looming government shutdown: It’s the most potent cocktail that Donald Trump, a teetotaler, could imbibe, and it produced a predictably jarring and erratic series of statements.
Over the course of several days, mostly in tweets, Trump tried to make three points. First, he sought to discredit the idea that he had referred to African nations as “shithole countries” and said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” (Trump also declared to a reporter that he was “the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”) Second, he jockeyed for position in negotiations over funding the government, arguing Democrats were imperiling the military as he tried to preemptively shift blame to them. Finally, for good measure, he whined a little bit that he doesn’t get more credit for what he’s done:
Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news, but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2018
What the president doesn’t seem to realize, or if he realizes cannot help, is that his goals are at cross-purposes. Trump, a historically prolific liar, has managed to stir up doubt in case after case, but this has rendered him incapable of convincing people of the importance of his constructive accomplishments. It’s another example of how Trump, notwithstanding his real-estate career, is more adept at demolition than construction. Seeking to deprive others of objective facts, he has deprived himself of their benefits as well.
The “shithole” showdown is a good case study for how Trump muddies the truth. When the first reports of the president’s words emerged on Thursday, the White House notably did not deny them. Later that evening, Senator Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat, confirmed news accounts.
On Friday, things got weird. Trump disputed the several accounts in media outlets, saying, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” Senator Lindsey Graham, an enemy-turned-ally of Trump’s who was present at the meeting, confirmed the president’s comments, both indirectly (through his South Carolina colleague Tim Scott) and implicitly (in a statement). But GOP Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia flatly contradicted them. “In regards to Senator Durbin’s accusation, we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically,” they said in a statement, and repeated that denial in TV appearances.