To belabor the obvious, President Donald Trump is not a slave to facts or logic. Perhaps, by his political success, he has taught those of us who attach great importance to accurate facts and logical inferences drawn from those facts that we may overrate the importance of those twin towers, facts and logic.
I don’t have a term ready to describe what Trump uses in place of facts and logic, perhaps some sort of a gut-level connection with the anger and grievances of many Americans. (A little more on that below.)
But first, an example of the kind of facts/logic vortex that passes for presidential leadership these days, at least in the president’s own mind.
After conferring with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his foreign travels, Trump told the media that Putin absolutely denies that Russia interfered in the U.S. election last year and that he, Trump, believes him, Putin.
‘I just asked him again’
Here, for example, is what he told reporters traveling with him after his most recent conversation with Putin during his current international trip:
He [Putin] said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did. Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.
As you may know, it is the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community that such Russian interference occurred, and that the interference was intended to help Trump defeat his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.
So, for a period of time, it seemed that Trump was taking the word of Putin that – contrary to the consensus conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community across its several agencies – Russia did not do the 99 things you have previously read that Russia did do to interfere in the election and specifically to help Trump and hurt his opponent Clinton.
But no. On a subsequent press conference during his foreign travels, following up on the quote just above, a reporter asked the president:
Could you once and for all, definitively sir, confirm whether you believe that President Putin and/or Russia interfered in the election?
‘I believe he believes it’
Replied the president (and I do not believe he intended this as a comedy routine, in the style of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine):
What I said there is that I believe he believes it. And that’s very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he believes that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.
Don’t ask me what “very strongly” is doing at the end there. But nonetheless, there it lies, for now:
Trump believes that Putin meddled in our election. But he believes that Putin believes that he didn’t meddle. So, for a facts and logic guy, here’s the problem, in the form of a follow-up question that I fear may never be asked because at some point reporters will just give up.
Proposed follow-up question:
Mr. President. You believe that Putin meddled in our election. But you believe that he sincerely believes he did not. Mr. Putin is widely viewed as very smart and very tough. So smart and tough that he could perhaps lie to your face about this matter without you realizing he was lying.
But on the assumption that you are right about what Mr. Putin actually believes, what theory of Mr. Putin’s personality or psychology are you positing, in order to believe, as you do, that he believes, as you believe he does, that he did not meddle in our election, even though he did?
I await illumination, but I fear I may be waiting forever.
Connection with base remains strong
Lastly, for now, as promised above on the question of how Trump’s connection with his base might fare as it becomes increasingly obvious that he is not going to do a great many things that he promised to do during the campaign.
I refer you to a really great Politico piece from last week, based on a recent visit to Johnstown, Pa., by reporter Michael Krause.
Johnstown is a formerly-prosperous-now-depressed steel mining city that Krause had visited a year earlier, a city that voted heavily for Trump — based, it seemed, on the belief that he and his make-America-great-again program was going to revitalize places like Johnstown.
Krause went back, a year after the election, to see if Johnstownites were seeing any of the revival Trump promised them and, if not, whether they were feeling like suckers and maybe even getting over their faith in Trump.
The answer is no, things are not getting better. But also no, they haven’t turned against Trump.
A complicated reality
Again, a facts-and-logic addict like me should be surprised. It’s hard for me to let go of the idea that if they don’t see the great-again results that they were promised starting to come true, they will become disenchanted with Trump. But no. Here’s an excerpt that captures the more complicated reality:
Johnstown voters do not intend to hold the president accountable for the nonnegotiable pledges he made to them. It’s not that the people who made Trump president have generously moved the goalposts for him. It’s that they have eliminated the goalposts altogether.
This reality ought to get the attention of anyone who thinks they will win in 2018 or 2020 by running against Trump’s record. His supporters here, it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments. For them, it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting.
Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf, battling the people who vex them the worst—’obstructionist’ Democrats, uncooperative establishment Republicans, the media, Black Lives Matter protesters and NFL players (boy oh boy do they hate kneeling NFL players) whom they see as ungrateful, disrespectful millionaires.
And they love him for this.
“I think he’s doing a great job, and I just wish the hell they’d leave him alone and let him do it,’ [a Johnstownite name] Schilling said. ‘He shouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
Facts and logic people, who are waiting for the moment when Trump supporters might decide they’ve been taken, should read this piece.