But the last two days have brought something new and far more depraved than anything we've seen so far, and it's important not to let this moment pass as just another case of Trump being Trump.
The Orwellian brazenness with which Trump and his campaign have rewritten reality, in now casting Trump himself as the man who has done Barack Obama a "great service" by establishing that the president really "was born in the United States," is unlike anything seen in American politics in any our lifetimes.
All politicians, like all human beings, shade the truth, use evidence selectively, recast the emphasis of events to cast themselves in a more favorable light.
But what we are seeing here is a campaign that, with not one iota of moral conscience, has reached into the playbooks of Big Brother, Joseph Goebbels, and Soviet Russia and simply fabricated an entire false narrative. This is not a case of spin, or deceptive evasion, or clever rhetorical jujitsu; ut is not a case of the subtle or clever lie intermixed with the truth.
Trump was the man who rode the "birther" movement to public attention. Nonstop, for weeks, he repeated every crackpot conspiracy theory: that Obama's birth certificate was a fake; that an official who knew the truth was murdered; that "a team of investigators" he had supposedly sent to Hawaii "cannot cannot believe what they are finding." As recently as three days ago he said he was not yet ready to say whether he believed Obama was born in the U.S.
What is astonishing and frightening is Trump's calculation that he can substitute any new "reality" he wishes to serve the moment, even one directly contradicted by what he himself was saying at the top of his lungs a day or two earlier, and have it swallowed by the public. Here, for the record, is the statement the Trump campaign issued this week:
Hillary Clinton's campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President. This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook. As usual, however, Hillary Clinton was too weak to get an answer. Even the MSNBC show Morning Joe admits that it was Clinton's henchmen who first raised this issue, not Donald J. Trump.
In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised. Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama's birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.
Let alone that every single one of the assertions in that statement is a falsehood, the internal contradictions are just mind-boggling.
1. falsely accuses Clinton of raising the claim that Obama was not born in the U.S.
2. says that she was "vicious and conniving" to do so
3. praises himself for actually raising the exact same claim
4. falsely boasts of having "obtained" and "compelled" Obama to release his birth certificate while deriding Clinton for being "too weak" to do so (remember, if we can for the space of two sentences, that this was for something that was "vicious and conniving" when Clinton supposedly did it, though not when Trump actually did it)
5. and ends it all by praising himself for having supposedly established that the lie he originally promoted for months on end was . . . a lie.
As he said yesterday (after spending a hour promoting his new hotel on live TV), "I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully, hopefully, getting rid of this issue."
Clinton responded, "There is no erasing history."
Yet that is precisely what Trump, in common with great dictators throughout history, is doing. If history is inconvenient, you invent a new history. It doesn't have to be true at all; it just has to follow a plausible story line that appeals to the prejudices and emotions of one's followers. And Trump's followers, even more alarmingly, seem to positively revel in their great leader's contempt for such elite niceties as being constrained by the truth.
George Kennan, as an American diplomat in Moscow in the 1930s, once sent a cable trying to explain Russian behavior to Washington. "Russians," he noted, "are a nation of stage managers and the deepest of their convictions is that things are not what they are, but only what they seem." Trump's much-noted admiration for Vladimir Putin runs deeper than we might have realized.