Kids! Can you find everything wrong with this tweet from the president?

A freak of nature that simultaneously fascinates and repels, and a caterpillar

Remember when Franklin Roosevelt entranced the nation with his fireside chats? Me neither, but I’m told it was nice. I bet our grandparents did not feel the same apprehension, gathering around the radio, that I feel opening Twitter each morning. I wonder what the president will say today, I think, unlocking my phone with the same demeanor a daylight alcoholic brings to unscrewing a bottle. Here’s what the leader of the free world tweeted today to 27 million followers, including me:

Kombat! kids: Can you find everything that’s wrong with this tweet? Just use a marker to circle the errors right on the screen. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Close reading after the jump.

Let’s start with the most glaring falsehood in this remarkably rich tweet: “just asking.” I suspect the president is not, in fact, just asking this question. If he were, he might have typed it into Google instead of Twitter. It’s a terrifying prospect that the president of the United States might have to learn factual information about political events by asking Twitter, especially when those events involved him directly. Luckily, we don’t have to consider that possibility, because President Trump is not just asking. He’s just reminding us that his opponent in the general election—which he won five months ago—got debate questions in advance.

By the way, that never happened. The story about Clinton receiving debate questions in advance was a hoax published by an obviously fake news site called the Baltimore Gazette. If the president were just asking Google instead of Twitter, he would have seen the Snopes post debunking this hoax immediately. Presumably, anyone he asked in the White House would have told him the same thing. But Trump has no particular interest in the answer to this question. He’s one of those people who finds the act of wondering more interesting than learning. Isn’t it strange how he doesn’t know whether Clinton apologized to him? He’s not saying she should. He’s just asking if she ever did.

Yet he cannot even repeat a falsehood accurately. Even as he presents as truth an utterly debunked rumor, he embellishes it. The hoax was that Clinton received debate questions in advance, not that she received “the answers to the debate.” What does that even mean? Are we to understand that Trump thought of the debate as a kind of quiz, with correct and incorrect answers? Does he regard every public statement of his own beliefs as a test he has to get through? Yeah, probably, and in this way he resembles Hillary Clinton. But I don’t think she conceives it quite so literally.

So the president is asking 27 million people a disingenuous question he could easily answer himself, reviving a debunked hoax even as he alters it to make himself look better. That’s a lot of work in 14 words. It’s like a mendacity haiku. When you drill down, the only true element here is the implication that Hillary Clinton was his opponent in the debate.

That’s kind of impressive. Any other liar—even a very skilled one—would probably accidentally tell more truth in the same number of words. I guess the trick is to practice every day. Also, President Trump is the worst-case scenario for democracy, the case we take up to play devil’s advocate. But hey, he’s rich. He’s got to be pretty smart, right? I’m sure everything will be fine, at least for members of his family.

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  1. What I love most about Hillary Clinton is that she will absolutely, positively never be president of the United States. Really love her for that!

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