Donald Trump delivered a gaffe-filled speech in Alabama on Saturday, exaggerating that crowds of Americans in New Jersey cheered the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was prepared to defend him, if he had merely misspoken, but given time for reflection he doubled down.
“And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump told his enthralled faithful.
Trump may have been confused about the number of people cheering when he spoke in Alabama on Saturday. Certainly somewhere in New Jersey, someone cheered, and Trump may have seen it. He was hanging around a lot of Democrats then, so who knows what he saw.
And there were crowds in the Muslim world shown on television cheering 9/11. It could be that Trump, 69, is simply suffering from some kind of memory trouble.
Heal’s Rule #2: If your opponent says something apparently counterfactual or inconsistent, assume that your interpretation is incorrect.
As a result of Rule 2, I gave Trump the benefit of the doubt on Saturday. Then he doubled down on Sunday, making it clear that he was talking about thousands of people cheering in New Jersey. Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
It did happen, I saw it with my own eyes. There were thousands of people that were cheering, on the other side of the river [in Jersey City]…
I know it may not be politically correct to talk about, but there were people cheering as those buildings came down. And that tells you something.
It was well covered at the time, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.
If thousands of people had been cheering 9/11 in New Jersey, everyone would have been aware of it. It would have left a giant historical footprint. There would have been similar celebrations across the country. Trump’s anecdote describes a world that does not exist.
Donald Trump inhabits a world of make believe, in which Mexicans pay for walls they don’t want, car makers can be taxed into bringing jobs back to America without attracting illegal immigrants, and thousands of people celebrate terrorist attacks without anyone but one lone billionaire remembering it.