Dana Milbank: Trump finds a cure for his small-hands problem

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump speak to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington. A federal judge in Los Angeles Tuesday, Jan. 22, appeared inclined to toss out a lawsuit against Trump by porn actress Stormy Daniels that seeks to tear up a hush-money settlement about their alleged affair. Her attorney Michael Avenatti argued the case should continue because he wanted to take sworn statements from Trump and Cohen. He plans to ask for legal fees. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Washington • The longest government shutdown in U.S. history shows no sign of resolving, and Americans wonder what President Trump and his team are doing.

Now we know. They are doing the important work the people sent them to do. They are elongating Trump's fingers.

The tech website Gizmodo reported this week that it found at least three retouched photographs on Trump’s social media pages since October, including two in the past few days, in which his body and face have been slimmed, his face and neck wrinkles tightened, his hair cleaned up — “and in one of the strangest alterations, Trump’s fingers have been made slightly longer.”

Comparing the original photographs to the doctored ones, Gizmodo speculates that Trump aides have been using Photoshop or Facetune and finds it "especially weird that his fingers have been made longer, which might lead one to believe that the president has had some input in these alterations."

Trump's reputedly stumpy hands have long been of concern to their owner, at least since the editor Graydon Carter called him a "short-fingered vulgarian" in 1988. After being teased by Marco Rubio, who posited that small hands correspond to another small body part, Trump declared at a presidential debate: "He referred to my hands: If they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem."

Millions of Americans no doubt were reassured by this personal guarantee.

But why the need for Trump to extend himself now? Perhaps it's involuntary. Pinocchio's nose grows when he lies; Trump's fingers might do the same.

Or maybe the digitally altered digits reflect the broader state of Trump's truthfulness. As things worsen for Trump — legal troubles, Democrats taking the House, the wavering economy and administration chaos — he has deployed ever more flimflam. Glenn Kessler's Washington Post fact-checking team this week reported that the president's production of false or misleading claims has nearly tripled, to a rate of 16.5 per day in his second year from 5.9 during his first year. The 82 days on which Trump did not publicly declare a falsehood "were often days when the president golfed."

Facetune, then, is a metaphor for Trump's presidency. He created the illusion of a border crisis. He created the illusion of economic success. He created the illusion of a tax cut for the middle class. He's trying to create the illusion that others are to blame for the shutdown. And now his team is creating actual illusions by posting doctored images of him (even as he accuses the media of being "fake").

To get a sense of how Trump's aides are doing the people's business, I downloaded the Facetune 2 app, used by teens, celebrities and possibly Donald Trump Jr. to airbrush their way to perfect skin, proportions and even mood. (Choices include "kiss," "cute," "seduce," "fierce" or "smirk.") Auto-filters turn you into a "hero," "belle" or other perfect specimen.

After turning myself into a virtual Zac Efron, I set to work on Trump, making his fingers so long they resembled Gollum's. He could palm a medicine ball with those 18-inch claws. I started with a golf shot of him looking particularly obese, took off 100 pounds and 20 years, and he became an orange-and-white Barack Obama.

Next, I attempted other makeovers. I turned the Sarah Sanders frown into a smile (though the result looked more puzzled than happy). I made Rudy Giuliani's mouth disappear entirely, to stop him from saying ruinous things about Trump and then recanting. I made Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) appear to have a spine.

For a White House having such a hard time dealing with reality, Facetune offers needed relief. Instead of actually building a wall, they could enlarge and elongate one on Facetune. Instead of actually denuclearizing North Korea, they could retouch those launch sites on Facetune. Using the "hero" filter, even Russian President Vladimir Putin could be made to look trustworthy.

Trump's claims about heroin and children being smuggled into the United States don't stand up to scrutiny, but a well-doctored photograph could show minors carrying large satchels labeled "HEROIN." With a swipe and touch, the steel plants Trump promised would appear, as would the thousands of MS-13 gang members he claims to have deported and the "barrels" full of cash Obama supposedly sent Iran.

With enough Facetune skill and creativity, Trump's team could even generate images showing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on a witch hunt and Democrats colluding with Russia.

He's got the whole world in his digitally enhanced hands.

Dana Milbank | The Washington Post

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group