Rudyard Kipling had his “Just So Stories” — charming fables that he told his daughter and collected in a beloved children’s book. President Trump has his not-so-charming “sir” stories. Daniel Dale of CNN has chronicled Trump’s proclivity for telling tall tales in which some unnamed person supposedly calls him “sir” and then tells him what he wants to hear. For example, after he signed an executive order rescinding a water regulation, Trump claimed that a tough rancher who had never “cried in his whole life ... was crying” and said, “Sir, you gave me back my life. You gave me back my property.”
Now add to the “sir” stories another category of make-believe: the “fellow World Leaders” story. On Sunday, while attending the Group of Seven meeting in Biarritz, France, Trump tweeted: “The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders, who think the USA is doing so well and is stronger than ever before, happens to be, ‘Mr. President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?’”
Uh-huh. Right. I’m sure that’s exactly what Trump’s “fellow World Leaders” said, right after they demanded to know why “17 Angry Democrats” were pursuing a “witch hunt hoax,” why the “fake-news media” doubt that he is a “stable genius,” and why Democrats are smuggling in illegal immigrants to vote against him. It’s a wonder his “fellow World Leaders” didn’t demand to know how he stays so thin. Funny how all of Trump’s interlocutors sound just like him. Just as, once upon a time, his “spokesmen,” “John Barron” and “John Miller,” sounded just like him, too.
At one level, it’s pathetic and even amusing that Trump is fabricating quotes to boost his fragile ego. But at another level, it’s terrifying, because he isn’t your dotty old uncle boasting of having landed a 500-pound marlin. There are real-world consequences when the most powerful man in the world lives in a make-believe universe where Greenland is for sale, video games cause mass shootings, climate change is no big deal, and “trade wars are good and easy to win.”
The unanswerable mystery is whether Trump is consciously lying or whether he believes his own drivel. The latter possibility is more terrifying, yet the former is scant comfort, either. Best-case scenario: The president is a pathological liar who repeatedly utters falsehoods that no one who does not work at Fox News could possibly believe. Worst case: He is a fantasist who cannot tell lies from truths, fantasy from reality.
Trump seems to believe that by saying something, he can make it so — a delusion that most people leave behind when they graduate from elementary school. On Sunday, he retweeted his deputy press secretary bragging: “And just like that… @realDonald Trump just secured a tremendous trade deal with Japan at the #G7Biarritz. The President will always stand up for our great farmers and ranchers!” (Actually, Trump retweeted his press secretary retweeting her deputy’s tweet with an extra dollop of North Korea-style flattery: “President @realDonaldTrump never stops working on behalf of the American people.”) Turns out this was apparently only an agreement in principle, with the devilish details to be worked out later. In other words, not an actual deal. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even demurred when Trump claimed that Japan would buy “hundreds of millions of dollars of corn” from U.S. farmers.
There was a brief pause in Trump’s blizzard of bunkum and bombast when he was asked by a reporter in Biarritz, whether he had any second thoughts about an escalating trade dispute with China. “Yeah, sure. Why not,” he said. “Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.” But this momentary outbreak of rationality did not last long before Trump’s spinmeisters implausibly explained that either he had not heard the question or that he had “responded in the affirmative because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.” Now back to our regularly scheduled programming — which consists of Trump ludicrously claiming that the Chinese, not U.S. consumers, pay his tariffs.
Axios just provided the most terrifying allegation yet that Trump truly inhabits his own dream world. Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev reported that he “has suggested multiple times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States.” According to Axios, “You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, 'What the f---? What do we do with this?’” (Trump, per usual, derided the report as “FAKE NEWS.”)
Just so. What do we do with a president who is becoming more delusional, and therefore more dangerous, the longer he stays in office? The Constitution offers us remedies — removal under the 25th Amendment or impeachment under Article II. But, since Republicans are blindly following the naked emperor, the political reality is that we will have to wait 14 more months for an election to remove him from office — and hope that the United States survives his hallucinations until then.