How Trump Shapes Reality

How Trump Shapes Reality August 13, 2019

I think I’ve realized something about how Trump operates.

It started when I came upon this CNN headline: “Dayton mayor ‘at a loss’ for why Trump aired grievances following hospital visit.” I had heard that Trump had taken to Twitter to slam the mayor, and I’d assumed he had been given the cold shoulder. I mean, I know I’d give him the cold shoulder. I read the article because I was thought the mayor of Dayton was the one who was confused about what happened.

She wasn’t. It turns out that what Trump said happened—what he was upset about—simply did not happen. It turns out that Trump was simply gaslighting the entire nation. And my response—assuming that something actually happened, even though I know Trump is a pathological liar—scares me. Because if that’s my response, why would anyone in his base double check anything he says?

Trump has the ability to shape—nay, to create—reality.

Back to Dayton. Trump said in his tweet that the hospital visit was wonderful and a complete success. Okay so far—he didn’t have a problem with the hospital visit. Next, he accused Dayton mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown of “misrepresenting what took place inside the hospital” during a news conference they held after he left. He claimed that their representation “bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people” he met and spent time with in the hospital.

Trump said that everyone at the hospital loved him and appreciated his visit, but that in the press conference they held afterwards, Whaley and Brown misrepresented this visit. This left the reader to assume that Whaley and Brown said the hospital visit didn’t go well, which is exactly what I assumed.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the hospital visit actually didn’t go well, regardless of what Trump said about it, because like I said, I’m fully aware that he’s a pathological liar. I wasn’t expecting Trump to claim falsely Whaley and Brown said at a press conference that the hospital visit didn’t go well.

Here’s what actually happened:

At their press conference, Brown and Whaley expressed primarily positive sentiments regarding the President’s hospital visit, though they did criticize his past rhetoric.

Asked at the press conference how Trump was received, Brown said, “He was received well by the patients, as you’d expect. They’re hurting.”

“He was comforting. He did the right things and Melania did the right things. And it’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms,” Brown said.

Whaley, too, was only positive about the hospital visit in the press conference, saying, “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the President of the United States came to Dayton.”

Brown did call Trump and his past rhetoric “racist.” Whaley called Trump’s past rhetoric “divisive” and said it was good he did not visit the district where the shooting occurred because of local “anger” about him.

But neither of the two Democrats alleged that Trump was badly received at the hospital.

Press conferences are recorded. You can double check what was said. Whaley and Brown said only positive things about the hospital visit. Trump lied, and I fell for it. I let him shape reality for a moment.

Why did I fall for it? I think I know why. I found it more believable that Whaley and Brown would have said bad things about Trump’s hospital visit—I mean my god, look what he did in El Paso—than that they would have only said good things about the visit, and that Trump would have then lied about that.

In the grand scheme of things, this one particular moment doesn’t matter. What I’m struck by, though, is Trump’s ability to shape and create reality with his words. What actually happened becomes irrelevant. Trump shapes perception, and in so doing, he shames reality. And that’s scary as heck.

As a general rule, men are willing to make authoritative statements on things they don’t know much about than are women. I’ll give you an example. Some time back, I asked my lovely husband a question for a home maintenance project I was doing. I assumed, based on the confidence level of his answer, that he actually knew what he was talking about. He didn’t. It turns out he was randomly guessing. How was I to know that men make random guesses with the same level of confidence women use when making statements about things they’ve spent years studying and are incredibly knowledgeable in?

I think there’s something similar going on with Trump. Most people assume that politicians are willing to lie about a lot things, or at least twist the truth, but they generally assume that politicians don’t lie about things that are easily checked, or about things that do not matter. So when Trump does just that—and he does—people in general—including, apparently, me—are apt to miss it. Just like my confidence-meter was off in the above example with my husband, our lie-meters are off when we approach Trump.

This is what gives Trump the ability to shape—and create—reality. He acts in ways we don’t expect. He acts in ways that make no sense. He tells lies when there is—or at least should be—zero chance of getting away with it, or in cases where it literally does not matter—where there is seemingly no point to it. Because we don’t expect people to do that, we as a society are vulnerable. And … here we are.

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