Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Who's the real Donald Trump? (Hint: there IS no real Donald Trump)

What you have to understand about the real Donald Trump is that there is no real Donald Trump.  There is only an ever-shifting series of fictional Trumps, a mere suggestion of an actual Trump, as he might put it.

For example, the entity known as Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for having opposed the invasion of Iraq, supposedly warning that it would lead to a quagmire and disrupt the entire Middle East. However, as someone who was vocally making that very argument at that time, I don't remember this Trump anywhere in the debate.

Given that opposition to invasion was pretty controversial and unpopular at the time, and given Trump's affinity for and access to the microphone, there would of course be a substantial record of him taking such a position. There is none. Only years later, after it was too late and the disaster of the invasion had already become clear, did he speak up to criticize it.

This morning on "Morning Joe", Trump took on yet another guise, saying that he also would never have gotten involved militarily in Libya or Syria. "I would have stayed out of Libya, yeah. I would have stayed out of Iraq too," he said.

"So there are a lot of people who say you have inconsistent foreign policy, but it sounds consistent here as far as what you've said this morning," host Joe Scarborough said in trying to summarize the Trump position. "You wouldn't have gone into Libya. You wouldn't have gone into Iraq. You wouldn't go into Syria. You wouldn't have fought Assad."

"Right," Trump said. "But I'll go after ISIS big-league."

So my question is, who the hell is this guy?

Whoever he is, he's a man with a plan.

"We should immediately go into Libya, we should knock this guy (Gaddafi) out , very quickly, very surgically, very effectively, and save the lives. After it's all done, we go to the protesters who end up running the country, they're going to like us a lot better than they will if we don't do it ... and then we should say, by the way, out of all of your oil, we want reimbursement."

It seems to me that we have two possibilities as to this person's identity, depending on which universe that you care to occupy:

1.) This could be video of the elusive and mysterious John Miller, that public-relations guy who once served as Trump's personal sexual-conquest braggart, but who has since disappeared from the planet, leaving no trace of his existence. If so, we can expect that Trump will be out with a statement soon explaining that the guy in the above video -- shot in Trump's office, and released in 2011 by Trump's organization -- doesn't actually look or sound anything like Trump, and all of Trump's supporters will nod their heads in agreement.

"Nope, doesn't look a bit like him."

2.) This is Donald Trump in all his irrationality, inconsistency, unstable and simplistic self, the Trump that Republicans want to install in the Oval Office within reach of the nuclear button, the Trump who is already alienating Great Britain, Mexico and other countries, the Trump who just yesterday brushed aside concerns about his trade policy with a shrug, saying "who the hell cares if we start a trade war"?

Which is the real Donald Trump? Again, there is no real Donald Trump. There is only the Trump as you want him to be at that moment, and he can be an entirely different Trump at the next moment, should you so desire it.


UPDATE (posted at 10:50 am):

OK, let's deal with this false equivalence that some people attempt to draw between Trump and Clinton on the question of authenticity and shifting of positions.

1.) We all change our minds from time to time, or at least should. As John Maynard Keynes famously put it, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

2.) Politicians, more than most of us, also change their minds to better suit the public mood. To some degree it's a professional necessity, and if you've been in public life for 35 or 40 years, as Clinton has, you inevitably build a record of such changes.

3.) With all that said, Clinton has a disconcerting instinct to find the middle ground of any argument and establish herself there, leaving you to wonder where she really stands. She has also shown an instinct to exaggerate or mislead at times. It's one of the reasons that I did not vote for her in 2008. That, and her Iraq vote.

4.) With all that said, the idea that the above is somehow equivalent to Trump's ability to shift 180 degrees in a few seconds time and then deny to your face that he has done so, to create false personas, to dismiss his own own extreme shape-shifting on the premise that everything he says is a mere suggestion -- that's lunacy, people. Clinton's duplicity is nowhere near the scale of Trump's duplicity on almost everything that he has ever said and done. He tells more documentable lies before noon than most people do in a decade.

Claiming an equivalence between the two is the kind of irrational refuge sought by people too afraid to make an actual choice, too caught up in the beauty of their own pristine neutrality to soil themselves in the reality that politics is always -- ALWAYS -- a choice between two flawed individuals. Declining to choose does not make you morally superior. It kind of makes you a coward.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.