Don’t Sniff the Sharpie Week

Dear Reader (particularly the storm-ravaged residents of Alabama),

To borrow a term from social science, this Sharpie story is amazeballs.

Even more amazeballs: My spellchecker accepts “amazeballs” as a word, a fact so amazeballs I had to look up the word to discover that Perez Hilton coined it, which means I can never use it again. You might ask, “If you don’t want to use a Perez Hilton portmanteau, why not just rewrite your first sentence?” Well, in the spirit of Sharpie Week, I feel like I should embrace the mumpsimusistic spirit of our times. Mumpsimustic isn’t a word, but a “mumpsimus” is a person who makes a mistake and stubbornly refuses to stop making an error even after the error has been called to their attention (and if lexicological legerdemain or neologistic novelty with the word mumpsimus is wrong, I mumpsimustically refuse to acknowledge my error).

The president is of course the most prominent mumpsimus in American life today, but he’s hardly alone. More on that in a moment. But we should take a moment to flesh out this Sharpie thing, for defecations and guffaws. His refusal to let go of the Alabama hurricane-warning-that-wasn’t is such a perfect encapsulation of Trump’s Trumpiness that it approached the Platonic ideal. The only thing that would have been better is if he’d taken a fine-tip Sharpie to the dictionary and written in a definition of “Covfefe” somewhere between covets and Covic and then tweeted a picture of it.

I’ve never thought of Trump as a Seinfeld character before, but there is something so quintessentially Seinfeldian about his refusal to let little things go. Jerry Seinfeld (and Larry David) reinvented an old plot device about how the inability to admit a mistake or obsession—the lie that George was a marine biologist, Jerry’s refusal to admit he didn’t know Delores’ name, the fun of making voices with your belly button, the theft of a marble rye, etc.— could drive an entire show.

Something similar has been the through-line of so much of the Trump Show. The doubling down on bogus claims of millions of illegal immigrants stealing the popular vote from him, his inaugural crowd size obsession, his claims that China pays the tariffs, his insistence that he met Vladimir Putin because his 60 Minutes interview appeared alongside one with Putin, the refusal to fully and finally admit Russia interfered in the election, and of course his own version of a man-hands controversy: The list is endless. He can’t admit error because he thinks it would show weakness, which is a deeper form of weakness.

Remember Trump’s bonkers press conference responding to Mitt Romney’s stop-Trump speech, which cataloged all of Trump’s failed businesses? Romney said:

Look, his bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.

Trump held a press conference showing off a slew of products he claimed proved Romney wrong. It was all bogus. His steak line, sold through Sharper Image (where I buy all my perishable food products), was dead. But he grabbed some Bush Bros. steaks from the Mar-a-Lago freezer and pretended they were Trump Steaks. He grabbed the in-house “magazine” of Mar-a-Lago—which he doesn’t own—and pretended it was the defunct Trump magazine. As for Trump Vodka, he laid out some “Trump Wine”—which isn’t vodka and isn’t owned by Donald Trump—and passed it off as proof of…something. Romney never mentioned Trump Water, but Trump did, claiming that he owned a water company. The proof? The Mar-a-Lago-branded water bottles on offer at the hotel. He didn’t own the company that made them and it wasn’t “Trump Water” anyway.

But hey, it worked for him. And this stuff usually works for him because, as any great con man will tell you, the mark wants to believe.

Story Trumps Fact

Longtime readers may recall that for years I’ve used a certain analogy to explain my view of liberal media bias. For the newbies, I’ll set it up. I honestly believe, deep in my heart, that every reasonable person knows there is such a thing as liberal media bias. It’s as real as cancer and Newark, New Jersey. Therefore, the only legitimate disagreements on the subject aren’t over its existence, but on its scope, significance, and magnitude. That’s why when conservatives hear liberals, particularly liberal journalists, pretend it doesn’t exist, it can drive us a little bonkers.

So here’s the analogy: It’s like the college roommate who takes your last beer. It’s not a big deal, really. But it is annoying.

“Dude, you took my last beer.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. Just admit it. I don’t really care. But you did.”
“I did not take the last beer.”
“Come on man, I saw you take it out of the fridge.”
“You’re drinking it right now! Just admit it! Say it, damn it! Say you took my last beer!”

And then you turn into Sam Kinison in Back to School screaming “Say it!” into his face. The point is that a lot of us could just move on if the media were honest about itself. But it can’t be, not fully, because it’s too invested in its self-image as somehow above the fray and non-partisan.

The funny thing is this is where we are on Sharpie Week. This is Day 6 of an incandescently stupid story, but the press can’t let it go and neither can Trump, and I’m here for it. Yes, in a sense it’s a morally grotesque collective action problem. The press is obsessed with proving to the world that Trump lies—which he does, constantly. And Trump’s fans and allies know he does, but they refuse to give the media the satisfaction of admitting it (and his political allies are terrified of angering Trump or his fans, so they pretend he doesn’t lie). At some point the press’s obsession with the lie becomes the story instead of the lie itself. Then conservatives do the whataboutist pounce, which the press invites because its daily zeal shows more concern about exposing Trump than about exposing lies by Democrats. And… everything gets even dumber in the process.

Seriously, step out of the ludicrousness of it all and just imagine you’re standing amidst the rubble of your Dorian-devastated home and you turn on the TV (which miraculously survived for the purposes of this hypothetical) to discover that the president is—or is happy to seem—more concerned with defending a really minor and understandable error than with directing relief efforts or expressing sympathy with the victims, and the press is equally obsessed with not letting the president off the hook.

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