From the American front line in the War for Ownership of the Truth, a fresh dispatch. In the defining conflict of the age, you may have noticed that things haven’t been going well for the roundheads, who bang on in their puritan way about the sanctity of fact.
For years, as the epiphanies of Brexit and Trump and mass popular disbelief in climate change confirm, the Anglo-American axis powers tending to the cavalier with the actualities have been in the ascendant.
Hopes of a roundhead counter-attack, via a second referendum here or the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives in the coming mid-terms there, are by no means dead.
But let’s not sugar this pill. This is asymmetric warfare against an enemy made lethal by liberation from all conventional rules of engagement. Those old-fashioned types who regard the truth as an objective entity – not whatever an individual chooses to believe, or Trump tells them to believe, in defiance of the evidence of their eyes and ears – are fighting a desperate rearguard.
On the surface, elements of the new dispatch may look like cause for optimism. On the Russian collusion front, Trump is looking increasingly desperate himself.
His story about the apparently pivotal focus of Robert Mueller’s investigation – Donald Jr’s October 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton – changed again on the weekend.
It had already gone through more developmental stages than a butterfly. First, Don Jr made his statement insisting the meeting primarily concerned the adoption of Russian children by US citizens. His father’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, initially denied his client’s involvement in that.
Then Trump’s enchanting press secretary Sarah Sanders confessed he did know about it, and merely made suggestions “like any father would do”. Finally, Sekulow admitted the future president dictated every word. And that, said another of his lawyers, the entertainingly deranged Rudy Giuliani, was Trump’s “final position”.
Meanwhile, Trump tweeted in July 2017: “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr.” Since then, yet another of his ragtag coalition of legal minds, the indicted fixer Michael Cohen, has testified that he knew about it in advance.
And so to Sunday, when during the traditional Sabbath dawn tweet-frenzy (one featuring the eccentric claim that the problem with the Californian wild fires is Democrats diverting all the state’s fresh water into the Pacific), Trump handed Don Jr’s sorry arse to Mueller.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
What explains his eagerness to deny knowledge of such a common, acceptable and legal activity is a matter, members of the jury, entirely for you.
It’s at this point that one hears the opening bars of the popular siren song, With Any Other President, one should yet can never quite resist.
With any previous president, admitting to having misled the US public so often and blatantly would have been terminal.
Nixon resigned for less. But that was long before the ferocious power of social media to muddy the waters separating fact from fiction, when almost everybody trusted the media to give them the truth. If it happened today, Watergate would be a nine-day demi-scandal.
Today, a lawyer like Sekulow glibly explains away Trump’s torrent of lies with a formulation which even 15 years ago would have been unthinkable from anyone wearing a jacket that does up at the front. “I think it’s very important to point out that in a situation like this…” he rambled on the weekend, “… facts develop.”
One fact is that two days before the meeting he still denies knowing nothing about in advance, Trump promised that he would shortly make a “major speech” about “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”.
That fact could develop, perhaps with one of those retroactive insertions of an unspoken negative – that Trump meant to say he would shortly not give a major speech. As indeed, presumably because Veselnitskaya had no useful dirt to dish, he did not.
The really terrifying thing is that he may be panicking without cause. The Supreme Court, where any attempt by Mueller to nail him will presumably be decided, is a politically independent branch of government.
With Nixon, despite its conservative bias, it voted 9-0 to make him release the tapes that led directly to his resignation. After a sycophantic Senate has confirmed new pick Brett Kavanaugh, it would be a huge shock if it didn’t vote 5-4 on partisan lines, as in the 2000 case about the hanging chads, in Trump’s favour.
With a compliant Congress and a politically motivated Supreme Court, the last line of defence in the War for Ownership of the Truth is the media. The fact is that 86 per cent of Republican voters trust Donald Trump’s honesty more than that of CNN and the Washington Post, and it is hard to imagine that developing. The next battle comes with those mid-terms in November. If the roundheads cannot win that one, they can begin the hunt for the white flag.