“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.”
Sean Spicer, the newly installed White House press secretary, was speaking to members of the American media for the first time after Donald Trump, the reality-TV star, became Donald Trump, the world leader. At issue was one of the many basic truths that, in those earliest days of the 45th presidency, had managed to become a matter of controversy: the number of people who had watched the new president speak—about crime, about carnage, about himself—at his inauguration.
The facts were not on Spicer’s side. There are myriad methods for determining the size of a crowd, in person and beyond, among them public-transportation ridership data, Nielsen statistics, satellite imagery, terrestrial photography, and common sense; put a photo of President Barack Obama’s inauguration next to a photo of Trump’s, and the truth of the matter is plain. Spicer, however, opted for a more faith-based approach. Seething and scowling and performing his indignation, condemning members of the media for their “deliberately false reporting,” the new messenger in chief seemed to be willing a more politically convenient truth into existence. The largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period: The whole thing had the air of incantation. Its foolishness might have been funny, had the attempt at weaponized magic not also suggested one of the darkest elements of the Trump presidency: its radiating conviction that truth itself can be remade in the shape of its leader.