So on Saturday, our new commander in chief goes to CIA headquarters at Langley, stands before a wall commemorating CIA employees killed in the line of duty, and launches into a petty, self-serving and angry tirade about how the lying media lied about the number of people who attended his inauguration.
Even there, at that place, it remains all about him.
Trump claimed that 1.5 million people had attended the inaugural, far more than drawn to President Obama, even though his claim was demonstrably untrue. He whined that the TV networks had shown "an empty field," as if that empty field was some cow pasture out in Iowa rather than real-time, actual pictures of the National Mall in the midst of the inauguration ceremony. A few days after comparing the behavior of the intelligence community to that of Nazi Germany, he also told CIA employees that he had always loved and supported the intelligence community, and that any notion of a breach between them was also the creation of the media.
And oh, just as an aside: He repeated his pet contention that after we invaded Iraq we should have taken its oil as war booty, "but, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance" in the future. I'm sure American advisers who are risking their lives trying to build Iraqi trust in our mutual battle against ISIS found that message from their president very useful. I'm equally certain that ISIS and Iran will spread Trump's admission of American oil-grabbing intent as widely as possible through the Muslim world. Thanks, Mr. President, good job.
Let me outline three other ways in which this was incredibly dumb:
1.) It proves that when given the option of protecting Trump's ego or doing the smart thing for the country, this administration will choose to protect Trump's ego. Remember, the press didn't make this the issue that dominates the first few days of the Trump presidency. Trump did. The smart thing to do would have been to shut up and move on, and if that had happened, the size of the inaugural crowd would have been a footnote in history by now. Dumb dumb dumb.
2.) Speaking of dumb, you can't fully appreciate the absurdity of the weekend events until you consider the magnitude of the Trump response -- Trump at the CIA, plus harsh public broadsides from Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus -- and remember that the whole thing is about something as inconsequential as crowd size. If this petty topic inspires such an operatic overreaction, what's gonna happen when some foreign leader calls Trump a clown or embarrasses him in some other way?
3.) Most important, it was dumb because they have now proved that they will lie to the face of the American people, without shame or concern about being caught. They will lie to your face even about easily disprovable facts, and then tell you angrily that you better like it. They will lie when you know they're lying, and when they know that you know that they're lying. And even then they'll stomp their feet in righteous anger when you dare to disbelieve them.
In an argument with Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press" Sunday, Conway tried to claim that she and others weren't offering lies or falsehoods, they were offering "alternative facts." It was the latest expression of the Trump theory described last month by Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes, who argued that "there's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts," because in a world without verifiable facts they can claim or do anything they want.
However, if the Trump folks don't like the labels "lie" or "falsehood," I have an alternative to offer. Maybe we could call these things "wrong Trump facts," or WTFs. As in:
"There is no evidence that Russia tried to influence our election." WTF?
"We won a historic electoral landslide." WTF?
""The media ... sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community." WTF?
It “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” WTF?
I have a feeling we're in for a whole lot more WTFs.