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Steinberg: Donald Trump, ‘pray for the grace of accuracy’

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sit in the rain waiting for the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017. | AP Photo

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“All’s misalliance,” writes poet Robert Lowell, “Yet why not say what happened?”

Why not indeed? I can answer that. Because whatever hole you have in your soul is so large, nothing can fill it. So you have to keep shoveling stuff in. A certain kind of guy has to be not just rich, but the richest. Not just high, but the top. Who has to shine at absolutely everything, outshine everyone, and when he doesn’t — because nobody shines all the time — he has to frantically pancake a thick crust of fake sparkle over himself and hope nobody notices.

The American public — the part that still cares about such things — noticed, and will long remember the first three days of the Trump administration. His sour inaugural address on Friday, Day One, which George W. Will, not exactly a liberal firebrand, dubbed “the most dreadful inaugural address in history.” Saturday, Day Two, when press secretary Sean Spicer clung to ludicrous claims that the crowd on Inauguration Day was the biggest ever. Then Sunday, Day Three, Kellyanne Conway on “Meet The Press,” coining an instant classic in the long history of mendacity: “Alternative Facts.”

Let’s be clear: It doesn’t matter how many people attended Trump’s inauguration. The true figure could be half what it actually was, or triple. The issue is that the real number was not enough for Trump because Obama drew more. So Trump had to claim the most ever. Because everything about Trump must be the biggest, greatest, most expensive, and if it isn’t, well, he’ll lie and shout down and bully whoever is rude enough to mention it.

It can’t rain on Trump’s parade. He had to claim the rain “never came.” When you could see the raindrops spotting his suit.

OPINION

Follow @neilsteinbergA small matter. And pointing out the truth feels small. But necessary. Trump’s paid hirelings claim the media “hates” Trump. That isn’t so, at least not with me. What I hate is lying, and Trump does that as naturally as breath and almost as often. I honestly feel sorry for Donald Trump. A man, 70 years old, who doesn’t even know it isn’t the size of the crowd, but what you do with it. Who clearly has a King Midas complex destroying his pleasures. Remember King Midas? Loved gold.

It’s a very old legend. Aristotle mentions Midas in his treatise on politics: “A man may have great wealth yet perish of hunger, like Midas in the fable, whose insatiable prayer turned everything set before him into gold.”

The same essay contains the famous phrase, “Man is by nature a political animal.” Aristotle goes on, wonderfully, “. . . man is more of a political animal than bees.” That’s off topic, but something about the phrase makes me happy — I like bees.

Does anyone get the impression that becoming president has made Trump happy? Satisfied? Or is he starving in front of his golden feast? Why would he spend the first 10 minutes Monday at a meeting with congressional leaders lying about “3 to 5 million” illegal votes that he conjured to explain Hillary Clinton beating him in the popular vote? Why? Because his life is a frantic scramble after a glory that is forever beyond his groping fingers.

Truth can be hard to accept, but accept it we must. In the poem quoted above, “Epilogue,” Lowell confesses that everything he’s written sometimes “seems a snapshot/lurid, rapid, garish, grouped.” He is often “paralyzed by fact.”

Fact will do that. But fact also endures, while the frail facade of dishonesty peels off over time. History will not believe Trump’s deceits. It will judge him not on how many people turned out to cheer him, but by the fact he felt compelled to lie about it.

“Epilogue” ends like this:

Pray for the grace of accuracy

Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination

stealing like the tide across a map

to his girl solid with yearning.

We are poor passing facts,

warned by that to give

each figure in the photograph

his living name.

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