There has never been a shortage of descriptors for Donald Trump, but “liar” wasn’t one of them. Not really, anyway. It was popular for a while to say, when Trump contradicted himself, that his attention-span is so short he couldn’t remember what he’d professed to believe a few years ago. Did he once claim, for example, to be “very pro-choice”? Doesn’t ring a bell a bell with him, no. To indulge in a bit of doublespeak, it wasn’t so much lying as it was “un-truth”. If you went to see your grandmother, who was in the late stages of her dotage, and she mistook you for her third-grade music teacher, you wouldn’t accuse her of willfully disseminating misinformation. And that’s more or less how Trump came off. He was too lost in his own attention-deficient la-la land to distinguish fact from fantasy.
But in just the last week this theory has been thrown into doubt. You might’ve heard of the incident on August 2 involving a baby who cried throughout Trump’s appearance at a Jacksonville rally. Trump addressed the mother thus: “Don’t worry about that baby. I hear that baby crying and I like it! I like it! What a baby. What a beautiful baby. Don’t worry …. don’t worry about it. It’s young. It’s beautiful. That’s what we want.”
Some eight seconds later, he addresses her again: “Actually I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here … I think she really believed me, that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking!”
Now, let me be the one with intestinal fortitude to say what everyone is thinking: The Donald’s stance on crying babies was 100% spot-on. Everyone knows bawling infants are damn annoying, whether you’re addressing a political rally or riding the bus to Balmain. As, for that matter, is the sound of children at play. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard this fabled “mirthful laughter of children”. Whenever my neighbor’s kids are out in their yard, they immediately begin screaming bloody murder until one of them starts crying hysterically. I’m with the Victorians here: children should be seen and not heard, and it is comforting to know my party’s presidential nominee feels the same way.
But then, after three days of castigation from the media, The Donald reversed his position at a gathering in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As Trump remembered it, he said: “Ma’am, I’d like to reverse my order. Perhaps you could nicely take the baby out. Your baby’s great.”
There are three possible interpretations here. One: Trump actually did politely ask the mother and her child leave the stadium. This one we can eliminate off the bat because he obviously didn’t. Two: Trump went squishy under media pressure. I’d hate to think this was true, because at this point the only thing Trump has going for him is his refusal to apologise for any of the uncomfortable truths he tells in defiance of liberal orthodoxies — like the fact that we can’t vet Syrian refugees for ISIS sympathies, or that crying babies are far, far worse than merely annoying. Three: Trump’s short-term memory is totally shot to bits, and he sees the world entirely through his own rosy lenses. (That would, I suppose, explain why his eyelids aren’t the same shade of orange as the rest of his face.)
Trump has been known to threaten lawsuits over anything approaching defamation, so I won’t give my own opinion here. I won’t, that is, say whether he’s sinking into senility or just turning into a politically correct putz. That’s entirely up to you, dear reader. But whatever conclusion you arrive at, it might be best to keep your opinion to yourself. Unless, that is, you have a few million dollars to chuck at a libel suit, or are willing to risk making fun of a demented old man.
Michael Warren Davis is in the US, not quite knowing whether to be bemused or appalled by the presidential choice confronting American voters