Trump and His Fans Are Stuck Inside a Feedback Loop

by Charles C. W. Cooke

On Meet the Press this morning, Donald Trump insisted that:

he was “100 percent right” when he said he saw thousands of Muslims in Jersey City, New Jersey, cheering the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, even though fact-checkers have debunked his assertion.

In a phone interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump said he has heard from “hundreds of people that agree” that there were televised Muslim celebrations of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which he used as evidence to show his remarks were true.

“I saw it. So many people saw it,” said Trump, who, in the race for the November 2016 election, has been among the most vocal of the Republican candidates in expressing skepticism about Muslims in the United States. “So, why would I take it back? I’m not going to take it back.” 

When NBC anchor Chuck Todd suggested the people Trump heard from are supporters and might want to agree with him, Trump interrupted to note the “huge Muslim population” New Jersey has.

“Why wouldn’t it have taken place?” he said of a celebration there. “I’ve had hundreds of people call in and tweet in on Twitter, saying that they saw it and I was 100 percent right.”

This affair serves as the perfect illustration of the ugly manner in which the Trump phenomenon now works. That there is no evidence of “thousands” of American Muslims cheering 9/11 from New Jersey is, frankly, immaterial. Why? Well, because Trump is playing a character on TV, and his script includes no room for error. By the rules he has set out for himself, whatever Trump says he is, he must be. As such, he can’t possibly have misremembered what happened after 9/11 — as might any human being — because he has the World’s Greatest Memory, and the guy with the World’s Greatest Memory doesn’t misremember.

This rule applies consistently. If Trump says he’s a conservative – despite holding positions that usually make conservatives shriek – then he’s a conservative. If that requires redefining conservatism, so be it. If he says he wasn’t mocking a journalist whom he was quite obviously mocking, then he wasn’t mocking that journalist. If that requires his admirers to suspend disbelief beyond all possible limits, then so be it. And if he says that he saw something of which there really is no evidence, then he must have seen it. Worse still: If you like him, then you must have seen it too.

In this late stage, Trump’s whole campaign has become a ghastly feedback loop from which there is no hope of escape. Typically, we do not accept “why wouldn’t it have happened?” as much of an argument for anything. Customarily, we would privilege the ancient principle of ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies) above an appeal to the mob. Not here, though. There’s a SuperTrump to prop up. If 2+2 has to equal 5 to annoy Chuck Todd or to stick one in the eye of the politically correct, then 2+2 is 5.