I'm talking about something different. Columnist Leonard Pitts put his finger on it in a recent essay about what Donald Trump's chief "explainer," Kellyanne Conway, said. In a CNN appearance, asked about a recent twitter dispute in which Trump said he didn't say what there is ample video footage of him saying, Conway said:
"Why don't you believe him? . . . Why is everything taken at face value? . . . You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and he's telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."All right. Let's stipulate that Kellyanne Conway has a very tough job: trying to clean up after Donald Trump's tweets and, generally, trying to convince people that he doesn't really mean what he says -- despite the fact that he often then comes back and says that, yes, what he said was in fact what he meant.
This is not the Bush-type inarticulateness; these are not just misunderstandings or, to use a Bush-ism, "misunderestimating" him. These are clear, black-white reversals. He mocks a disabled reporter on video; then insists that he did not do it. Clear-cut denials that he did what he did, said what he said -- despite forensic-level evidence that he did or said the very thing he's denying. Pitts expounds on the implications:
"So it's funny, but frankly also chilling, to see Conway scurrying around at this late date, . . . asking America . . . Don't go by what comes out of his mouth? . . . Seriously?
"She does know this man is about to be president, right? She realizes, doesn't she, that a president's words can incite revolution? That they can move the stock market? That they can get people killed?
"Yet this woman thinks the problem with Trump's diarrheal mouth is the fact that we listen to it. In other words, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Is that to be the message our ambassadors give our foreign friends -- and foes -- for the next four years?"That's not going to work, folks. But don't blame Conway. She's just trying desperately to do the impossible job she's hired to do.
The problem here is that too many of the American people did believe what came out of his mouth, and they liked what they heard -- in part because he expressed what was in their hearts.
But that was a very dark, angry, paranoid, conspiracy-driven, vicious, and sometimes violent message -- along with strong-man promises to change all of that, make things work, Make America Great Again. Even then, Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than he did; and, but for the vagaries of the Electoral College, she would be the one getting sworn into office on Friday.
So, perhaps Kellyanne Conway isn't talking just about what Trump said in his latest twitter rant -- but about all those promises he made at his campaign rallies -- yes, those that got him elected. What's going to happen when his rally buds realize he lied to them? That he can't -- just by saying he will -- change all that? What's going to happen when the leaders of our allies confront him about the things he has said about NATO, about trade, about the Paris climate agreement?
Who ya gonna' believe? What if you can't believe the President of the United States? If that turns out to be true, then he's not likely, for very long, to be considered the leader of the free world. Nor will the U.S. continue to be the leader of the world . . . free or not.