The fact that this comes after Trump waged a public assault on Anthony S. Fauci, his own leading infectious-disease expert, only seems to compound the folly here, since voters are surely looking to the popular Fauci for advice with the coronavirus again spiking around the country.
But in a very real sense people such as Stahl and Fauci actually are the chief opponents Trump must contend with in the campaign’s final days. They are the figures he perceives to be standing in the way of his effort to conduct this campaign in an entirely invented universe that he’d hoped to manufacture for this very purpose.
Trump unloaded on Stahl at a rally on Tuesday night, showing that he’s still stewing about an interview he did with “60 Minutes,” which is set to air on Sunday but apparently went very badly.
“You have to watch what we do to ‘60 Minutes,’” Trump seethed. “You'll get such a kick out of it. You're gonna get a kick out of it. Lesley Stahl is not gonna be happy."
This appears to be a reference to Trump’s threat to release the full footage of the interview before edited parts air. It’s not clear what that would prove, but Trumpworld is all in: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just told Fox News that it would show Stahl “came across more like an opinion journalist than a real reporter.”
Yet The Post reports that what really angered Trump was Stahl’s aggressive questioning about his attacks on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and his disputes with Fauci, as one person with knowledge of the interview noted. And there’s this:
Stahl also told him during the interview that allegations about [Joe] Biden’s son Hunter were not verified and that the Obama administration did not spy on the Trump campaign. Many of the questions were about the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of it, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interview frankly.
Trump was so upset about the interview that “he complained about it all day,” reports The Post, and his aides believe his public anger “might actually boost the ratings of a tough interview.”
Why might this have enraged Trump? Because Trump has gone to tremendous lengths to manufacture precisely the illusions that Stahl apparently sought to puncture, yet these efforts are failing.
Nothing is going according to plan
Right now, Trump is loudly calling on Attorney General William P. Barr to launch some sort of investigation into the new Hunter Biden pseudo-revelations about emails supposedly discovered on his laptop. This whole scandal is based on largely unverified accusations and false premises.
But the point for our purposes here is that Trump is angrily demanding that top officials in his government announce actions that make this “scandal” seem real. Stahl pointed out that the story is unverified, which is 100 percent correct, but this isn’t what was supposed to happen.
You see, this story was supposed to be “verified” by now, or seem verified. Yet there are no indications that Barr will deliver, and most news organizations are treating it with great skepticism.
Similarly, Trump had expected that Barr would produce major revelations in his “review” of the origins of the Russia investigation, which would make the bogus “Obamagate” scandal seem true, thus proving that his opponent, Joe Biden, belonged to a criminal administration.
But Barr has let it be known that no report is forthcoming in time for the election. Stahl pointed out that the Obama administration didn’t spy on Trump’s campaign, which is true. But this was supposed to be “verified” by now, or seem verified.
Campaigning in a fictional universe
Oddly, it’s almost as if Trump has assumed all along that he can’t win a reality-based argument and a fair election against Biden. Instead, he set about using the government to manufacture fictions that would define the parameters within which this campaign would unfold.
During his recent NBC town hall, Trump grew incensed because the arguments were unfolding in reality, where the biggest domestic extremist threat is right-wing in nature — which his own Department of Homeland Security has attested to. This wasn’t supposed to happen: Extensive government resources were devoted to manufacturing the illusion of an organized leftist terror threat for him to campaign against, but that’s failed.
Trump got impeached for subverting U.S. foreign policy to the goal of strong-arming Ukraine into announcing an investigation into alleged Biden corruption — not actually looking for corruption, but merely announcing it — because again all that mattered was what could be made to seem true.
No outcome in which Trump loses the election is legitimate, he now claims. Millions of mail ballots will be coming from who knows where, Trump insists, so how can you trust the counting of them? This means full-scale manipulation in the war over who appears to win the vote count is justified.
And to this day, the entire GOP is required to play along with the illusion that Trump mostly vanquished the coronavirus through his spectacular leadership. The crowning conclusion to this was to be Trump’s success in bulldozing a vaccine through in time for his reelection.
But that too fell apart, cases are again on the rise and Fauci is telling the American people hard truths about what lies ahead. That’s exactly why Trump is raging at him, and Stahl, too, sought to burst this illusion.
It’s doubtful that Trump will end up releasing the full footage of the Stahl interview. But if he does, my bet is that it will dramatically illustrate his rage at Stahl for deflating his fictional universe. The one that by now was supposed to seem true.