On Thursday evening, Donald Trump sent this inspiring pair of tweets, in which he perhaps unknowingly revealed exactly how he plans to make America great again:
Yes, your suspicion was correct. Ford was never going to shut a plant in Kentucky and move it to Mexico. The company does have production in Mexico, and it has moved around which models are built where, but Trump hasn’t saved any autoworkers’ jobs (if you want to credit a president with saving autoworkers’ jobs, you should thank the guy who’s still in office for another two months).
But I can promise you that in a very short time, millions of Trump supporters will be convinced that he saved thousands of jobs in Kentucky with just the force of his will. As Jesse Singal observed, within minutes of Trump sending his bogus tweet, the story was spreading in its fake version through the conservative media ecosystem. It’s an inverse of the bitterly sarcastic “Thanks, Obama” meme, wherein the president’s critics blamed him for everything that might go wrong in the country or their own lives, right down to whether their boss was a jerk. Trump’s enthusiastic fans will find a way in their own minds to give him credit for anything, and they already are. Gallup recently reported that in the week before the election, just 16 percent of Republicans said the economy was improving; in the week after, that number shot up by 33 percentage points.
Trump is providing us a preview of what he’ll do as president: He’ll construct his own fake world for those who support him to inhabit, in which he’s always right and deserves credit and praise for everything good that happens anywhere, whether he had anything to do with it or not. If there’s positive news, he’ll say it happened because of him. If there isn’t any, he’ll just make something up and take credit for that.
We saw this fairly often during the campaign. In the first primary debate, Trump said, “NATO is opening up a major terror division. … I’m sure I’m not going to get credit for it, but that was largely because of what I was saying and my criticism of NATO.” In fact, they weren’t actually opening up a new terror division, and they’d been working on terrorism for years. When Iran released four American prisoners in January after months of delicate negotiations with the U.S. government, Trump said, “I think I might have had something to do with it, if you want to know the truth.” In September he tweeted, “Do people notice Hillary is copying my airplane rallies — she puts the plane behind her like I have been doing from the beginning.” That’s despite the fact that presidential candidates have been holding rallies in front of airplanes pretty much since there were airplanes.
Trump also took credit for Anheuser-Busch’s decision to temporarily rename Budweiser “America” this summer. He was under the impression that before his campaign there were no deportations (“Does everyone see that the Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally. Politics!”). And this isn’t something he started doing when he ran for president; in 2014 he took credit for Apple’s decision to make a large iPhone.
As we go forward, you can expect Trump to regularly take credit for things that Obama did. Remember when he claimed that despite the fact that the official unemployment rate is below 5 percent, the “real” (i.e., imaginary) rate is more like 40 percent? Well, don’t be surprised if after the January jobs report, Trump says, “Unemployment is now under 5 percent! Everyone is saying it’s because I’m making America great!” He’ll probably take credit for low inflation, the fact that we have the lowest proportion of uninsured Americans in history, and the opening weekend gross for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Every president engages in an extended argument with his opponents about the state of the country, what its condition is, which indicators are important and relevant, and where responsibility lies for the things that go right and those that go wrong. Trump won’t do this, at least not in the way we’re used to. He’ll create an entire alternate reality, one that has no relationship at all to the truth. Fortunately for him, his supporters already have plenty of practice convincing themselves that the actual facts are just something liberal elitists want to fool you into swallowing, and no phony story is too ludicrous to accept if it reinforces what you already believe.
And you thought George W. Bush was the president of truthiness? Just you wait.