It would be petty to accuse Donald Trump of lying. He is doing something more complicated. He has been painstakingly constructing a fictional universe over the past 30 years. (Happy Star Wars Day, Internet!) He has built a world full of colorful, mustachioed characters – some doctors, some lawyers, some national security advisers – in which he possesses supernatural powers, a secret identity (John Barron), and wealth and health that cannot be measured using ordinary tools. He has also been elected president of the United States.
Nobody is lying in Trumpworld. The facts are evolving. The canon is constantly being revised in order to satisfy passionate fans, and the haters can suck it up. Does anyone remember George Papadopoulos or Carter Page? Of course not. They are no longer canon.
The boundaries of Trumpworld are controlled only by the Word of God (Trump, its creator). His statements alone carry weight, until they don’t. Some figures are welcomed into the story as recurring, active characters (Jared, Ivanka); others dip in and out of existence entirely (Tiffany). It is impossible to keep all these story lines and relationships straight – even the Creator cannot always do so.
This is the reality-TV kind of reality where, in post-production, you can unsay anything. If Trump hadn’t been elected president, he would still be building this world in his basement.
If this were simply real life or simply fiction, it would be much easier. But Trumpworld is a fictional universe in which real people are being forced to live. So you cannot say something either happened or did not happen. You must check with the Creator to see whether it happened, and sometimes his answer will change midsentence. Somebody who thought she was familiar with the plot points will make a statement that seems to logically follow, and it will turn out that she did not know what she was talking about. Since Trumpworld’s purchase by the American people, we had expected to have a more stable narrative, but that does not suit the Creator’s purposes.
And now Rudy Giuliani, I am ashamed to say, has run afoul of canon.
Giuliani thought he was helping by sharing some fun new stories he had discovered about the president, but it turned out he was violating the first rule of Trump canon, which is that only Trump can set canon.
First, Giuliani explained that Trump had reimbursed lawyer Michael Cohen for his $130,000 in hush payments to Stormy Daniels. “I don’t think the president realized he paid him back for that specific thing until we made him aware of the paperwork,” Giuliani told NBC News, claiming that the president replied, ”‘Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.’” But it was fine, because the funds were not campaign-related, though Giuliani could not help reflecting that it would have been bad for the campaign had this story come out closer to the election.
Then Giuliani said Trump fired James B. Comey because he refused to clear the president’s name in the Russia investigation.
These were not authorized additions to canon.
Giuliani “just started a day ago, but he really has his heart into it,” Trump explained, and he did not say things the way they ought to be said. He is still “learning the subject matter.” (He did not start just a day ago, but as any follower of Trumpworld would understand, “yesterday” is a metaphor, like a day in Genesis, or the dreaded phrase “got coffee one or two times” – spoken prior to erasing someone from the canon entirely.)
But Giuliani is a “special guy,” and so he was able to issue a statement revising these statements. There is no fact, only canon. Trump was within his rights to remove Comey (“Recent revelations about former Director Comey further confirm the wisdom of the president’s decision, which was plainly in the best interests of our nation,” Giuliani’s statement explained.) Giuliani was not right to speculate about the payments. (“My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.”)
Only the president understands what the president understands. Only he sets the rules for this reality.
Giuliani’s own backstory has suffered several revisions. “Rudy is great, but Rudy has just started and he wasn’t familiar with everything,” Trump told reporters. “He’ll get his facts straight.”
Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.