The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is now routinely denying the obvious

President Trump at an ABC News town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Denial is a river that runs through Donald Trump.

At Tuesday night’s town hall meeting, he denied that he played down the pandemic, saying, “in many ways I up-played it.”

But Bob Woodward has released an audio recording of him saying, literally, “I wanted to always play it down.”

Trump further denied that he said President Xi Jinping was “doing a good job” with the coronavirus. “I didn’t say one way or the other,” Trump claimed.

In fact, he said of China, in public, “I think they’re doing a very good job.” He also praised Xi as “extremely capable,” “strong, sharp and powerfully focused” on the virus and said “he’s handled it really well.”

At the gathering, hosted by ABC News, the president also denied that he referred to U.S. troops, in particular the late John McCain, as “losers.” Trump said “I never made those statements.”

Trump had said, verbatim and in public, that he didn’t much like McCain, a former prisoner of war, “because I don’t like losers.”

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He denied that his administration’s request that the Supreme Court invalidate Obamacare would eliminate protections for preexisting conditions, although his request would do exactly that if the high court agrees with it. He further denied that former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in protest, had actually resigned.

The day before, he denied the very existence of climate change, saying “it’ll start getting cooler. . . . You just watch.”

And last week, he announced that “we’re going to have a vaccine very soon, maybe even before a special date” — Election Day.

When a reporter asked about the assertion a vaccine would come out “before the election,” Trump replied that “I didn’t say what you said. What I said is ‘by the end of the year.’ ”

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

To state the obvious, he is routinely denying the obvious. Woodward, during an interview for his new book on Tuesday, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I don’t know, to be honest, whether he’s got it straight in his head what is real and what is unreal.”

It has always been thus. Months before the 2016 election, I speculated that Trump “may not be able to tell fact from fiction.” The very first act of his presidency was to give an inaugural address in the rain — and then he declared it was “really sunny.” We often assume he is lying, but it may be that he can’t distinguish truth from falsehood, reality from fantasy.

When Trump in early April acknowledged the severity of the pandemic, a reporter observed that “a few weeks ago you said this was just like a flu.”

“I didn’t say two weeks ago it was a flu,” came Trump’s denial.

He specifically said on Feb. 27: “This is a flu. This is like a flu.” He continued the comparison into late March.

He denied saying he was going to put World Health Organization funding on hold, that the virus would go away in April, that if governors “don’t treat you right I don’t call,” that there would be 5 million covid-19 tests per day, that he praised China’s transparency. The video, audio and transcripts say otherwise.

He denied that the Secret Service moved him to a White House bunker because of demonstrations (it was an “inspection”). He denied that tear gas had been used on demonstrators (it was pepper spray).

Lately, the tendency has become so frequent he seems to have taken up residency in a state of denial. During this campaign, his responses are reflexive: Deny virtually anything said about him and then accuse Joe Biden of something worse.

He denies trying to slow mail delivery after admitting he wanted to block funds to the post office to limit its ability to deliver ballots. He denies helping to get Kanye West on the ballot in key states. He denies that the late Herman Cain contracted covid-19 at Trump’s Tulsa rally. He denies he asked the U.S. ambassador to Britain to get the British Open for his golf course in Scotland. He denies tensions with Anthony Fauci. He denies being told about Russian bounties to kill U.S. troops. He denies the official pandemic death count. He denies he wanted his name on stimulus checks.

Over time, he has denied the big (no quid pro quo!) and the small (no bedbugs at Trump National Doral!), both high crimes (what Russian election help?) and low (what Stormy Daniels payments?). And on, and on.

After four years of a president denying the obvious, after 20,000 falsehoods, many of Trump’s remaining supporters clearly have also lost the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. After four more years, would we all lose it? The possibility cannot be denied.

How do conspiracy theories and racism move from the fringe to a political platform? The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has found the way. (Video: Parjanya Christian Holtz, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: Markus Schreiber / AP/The Washington Post)

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