US President Donald Trump speaks at the Infrastructure Summit with Governors and Mayors at the White House in Washington, US June 8, 2017. Photograph: (Reuters)
In his messaging, Donald Trump has given so many warped accounts of reality, in ways that always advantage him, that it must be deliberate and calculated. Here is the pattern: Something obviously bad happens to him, then he twists it so it reflects well on him. His core supporters believe him no matter what.
The latest example of this involves James Comey's testimony given yesterday, the highly anticipated words under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee from the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Trump's lawyer said the president felt "completely and totally vindicated" by the testimony. That is awfully, awfully hard to believe.
The FBI is leading an enormous investigation into Russia's interference in the election won by Trump, so it was suspicious when Trump abrutly fired the head of the FBI. That's why people were so excited to see what Comey had to say about his private meetings with Trump, and he didn't disappoint.
Comey said he was "disturbed" by what he interpreted was the president's request to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security chief who misled US Vice President Mike Pence about his secret and repeated contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Comey said he had never felt the need to detail his meetings in writing with any US president (previously he worked for President George W Bush and President Obama, a Republican and a Democrat), but did feel the need to do so with President Trump.
Asked why he thought the president fired him, Comey said he wasn't certain but added: "Again, I take the president's words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that."
There is a way to interpret the Comey testimony as non-cataclysmic for Trump: It did not provide flagrant evidence of obstruction of justice, which could plausibly have led to impeachment. Though it certainly didn't close the door on it! The legal process behind impeaching a president is suitably complicated, which is good: In a stable democracy it should indeed be very difficult to impeach a sitting president.
But there is no way to listen to the testimony and walk away from it believing Trump is an utterly innocent man, what should be required for Trump to actually feel "totally vindicated".
Rather, Trump must be premeditatedly pushing an alternate reality knowing that his base will believe anything, that if he says something, no matter how obviously incorrect it is, his core supporters are desperate to believe him.
Trump's core supporters believe anything
There are Trump supporters who read Trump's now famous and inexplicably bad spelling blunder "covfefe"--either a major typo for some mysterious word or the correct spelling for one that doesn't exist--and claimed Trump was writing in Arabic. They apparently found it easy to believe that the man with a history of Islamophobia, who made a Muslim "travel ban", and who has never written or spoken a single Arabic word but has committed numerous English typos simply wrote an Arabic word for no apparent reason.
Knowing that whatever he Tweets will be amplified in headlines around the world, and knowing that he has followers who are shockingly gullible, Trump continues to pump out messaging that no matter how aggressively false has the power to convince. His persistence in this seems like calculated, strategic manipulation.
But as the various investigations unfold and more and more people are brought to speak under oath, Trump's lies may not be enough to save him.