President Trump remains peculiarly fixated on the cover of Time magazine. He has claimed in the past that he holds the record for most covers, but in an interview with Michael Scherer for this week’s magazine, the president asked if he was the all-time leader. Scherer had to break the bad news to him: Richard M. Nixon still held the lead—though he added, “He was in office for longer, so give yourself time.” “Ok, good. I’m sure I’ll win,” Trump replied.
The exchange is full of intrigue. Neither man noted that though Nixon was elected to two terms, his presidency was foreshortened by paranoia and lawbreaking. Nor did they note the increasingly frequent comparisons between Nixon’s terminal scandal and Trump’s own difficulties. But in the course of an interview about Trump’s extremely distant relationship with the truth—from obvious lies to head-scratching speculation—the president offered Nixonian maxim of his own.
“I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not,” he said.
Nixon famously, and incorrectly, told David Frost, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Trump is offering an even more absurd thesis: When the president says it, that means it’s true.
It’s Trump’s excuse throughout the piece. Time and again, Scherer asks Trump about statements that he has made without evidence, and time and again, Trump insists that something that happened later retroactively justifies the claims he has made, effectively arguing that lies have been alchemically transformed into truths after the fact. Time’s cover, the president was surely sad to discover, is not his face but the words, “Is Truth Dead?” over a somber black background.
The problem is that later events don’t make things any less false, and in many cases, Trump is also lying about the ex post facto justifications.
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