November of 2015 was ending. As the brisk autumn air began to give us forebodings of the winter ahead, Donald Trump recovered his momentum on the campaign trail, having briefly stumbled behind fellow outsider candidate Ben Carson in Republican polling.
For months, the Trump campaign had dominated other Republican candidates’ efforts in the presidential primary race. Trump succeeded overwhelmingly by tapping into fear and loathing from voters on the right who were galled by both the progressivism of the Obama years and by Republican officials in Congress, whom they saw as spinelessly bending to Obama’s agenda.
Days after the terror attacks in Paris, Trump claimed to have seen “… when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched it in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
Specifically, Trump claimed that thousands of Muslims cheered as the World Trade Center collapsed.
I won’t call it opportunistic to make a wildly islamophobic claim like this one just days after the attacks in Paris. I won’t call it fear-mongering, even though that’s clearly what it is. For now, I’ll content myself with a fact check.
The Washington Post’s George Stephanopoulos, who interviewed Trump about these allegations, wrote: “Trump says that he saw this with his own eyes on television and that it was well covered. But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey except for unconfirmed reports.”
Stephanopoulos goes on to explain that in a New York Post interview mere days after 9/11, Trump made no mention of these purported thousands of cheering Muslims. Neither is there a mention of them in Trump’s introduction for Janette Reynolds’ book, Where Were You on 9-11? Here, Trump simply recounts how “I was in my apartment in the Trump Tower [on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001]. I knew what was happening because I can see downtown to the Financial district.”
The trouble with fact-checking Trump, as Stephanopoulos noted in this piece, is that it leads nowhere.
At around the same time, Trump tweeted a picture alleging that in 2015, blacks had killed 81 percent of white homicide victims. The data cited came from a supposed “Crime Statistics Bureau” based in San Francisco, about which Politifact’s Jon Greenberg reported: “… As several news organizations quickly noted, the ‘Crime Statistics Bureau’ doesn’t exist. We looked for that agency as well and the closest we found in San Francisco were a number of crime scene clean-up services.”
But retraction has never been Trump’s strong suit, and even when presented with information that counters his claims, Trump has held fast to his assertions.
When Bill O’Reilly of Fox News disputed Trump’s infographic on intra-racial crime, Trump replied: “Hey, Bill, Bill, am I gonna check every statistic? I get millions and millions of people … @RealDonaldTrump, by the way.”
Trump’s strategy for truth-negating took the following course:
- Claim something outrageous and tremendously dubious (e.g. thousands of Muslims in Jersey City celebrated 9/11).
- Await media fact-checking.
- Claim to have other sources disproving media fact-checking (e.g. “I saw it with my own eyes.”)
- Bully the media into submission by calling them inept or vindictive, and allege them to have misconstrued original comments.
- Ride the apex of media coverage.
- Rinse and repeat.
When the media ripped apart Trump’s allegations about the Muslims in Jersey City, however, his response was especially heinous.
In defense of his claim that thousands of American Muslims cheered the World Trade Center’s collapse, Trump cited a 2001 Washington Post article by Serge Kovaleski and Fredrick Kunkle.
In response, Kovaleski explained: “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.”
Kovaleski has Arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder “in which a joint becomes permanently fixed in a bent (flexed) or straightened (extended) position, completely or partially restricting the movement of the affected joint,” according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
Shortly afterwards, MSNBC reported that at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump said of Kovaleski: “‘Now, the poor guy, you’ve got to see this guy.’ Trump then curled and raised his arms to seemingly mirror Kovaleski. ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’”
Of all Trump’s savage attacks during the course of his campaign, this one is arguably the most craven. It hadn’t sufficed for him thus far to vilify Mexicans, African Americans, women, journalists and Muslims, among others. Trump then had the audacity to mock a reporter with a physical handicap.
In typical Trump fashion, the Republican front-runner lied his way out of this scandal, replying in a statement to NBC: “I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski [sic] is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence. I don’t know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime — or somebody of less athletic or physical ability.”
As winter approached, it became clear Trump’s campaign was nigh unsinkable. Here was a candidate who could issue a myriad of statements contrary to common sense and offensive to public sentiment. In spite of it all, he not only survived the Republican primary race, but consistently lead it.
Journalists, pundits and analysts continued to call for a Trump downfall that simply would not come. Our electorate had created a monster that could withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without so much as a scratch.
Those of us who watched this madness bewildered had to ask—was this it? Was this our time to pay the piper? Would we now be forced to give the devil his due?
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.