The Bombshell Memory Hole

In the beginning of the Trump era, the press made errors and lied about them. Now it just denies they ever were

The New York Times published a massive expose about Donald Trump’s taxes on Sunday, starting the world on yet another trip up the Trump delirium coaster. The stages of the morality play are burned in our brains. Pundits scream bombshell, rush up a ladder of indignation, jump squealing into an abyss of apocalyptic predictions, dust off and do it again.

How many of these stories have there been? A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? I tried physically counting and gave up. Our heads are packed with years of half-told stories that were discarded the instant they stopped having commercial or political utility. Some involved Trump, some not, who can remember them all? From sonic weapons in Cuba to spies gone dark to a secret bank server to hacker huddles in Prague to probable cause for an “agent of a foreign power” to Mike Flynn’s mistress to the Manafort-Assange confab to the exfiltrated agent with a home on to Putin’s niece and treason in Helsinki and North Korea and the Oval Office, we remember beginnings and not ends.

This fall, Showtime released a movie about Jim Comey whose trailer features scenes of Russian prostitutes in a hotel elevator, on their way to give the Donald a pee show. This scene not only seems never to have happened but was revealed in recent weeks to have been spun by a Washington-based Brookings Institute analyst who was, no shit, the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation a decade ago. That doesn’t mean Igor Danchenko was a spy, but considering the awesome quantity of ink the pee story commanded across years of convulsive warnings about a compromised president, blue-state audiences at least deserved to hear this ridiculous development — and didn’t, apart from one item in the Washington Post and a Vox story pooh-poohing the news as a Republican fundraising stunt. For the rest of time, a plurality of the country will be frozen in the moment when this and dozens of other panic-switches were turned on, a campaign of titillating false starts now too numerous to be undone.

Like many “bombshells,” the Times tax story contains real information, including potentially real outrages, like bank fraud or deducting consulting fees paid to his daughter. The headline revelation is Trump as metaphor for American finance generally, showing the appearance of wealth resting atop absurd fictions, with monster debts rolled into the next ice age and losses somehow appearing as his greatest assets, in ways inconceivable to regular people. At the end of the cycle, pundits will conclude that Trump has a story about being rich in place of actual wealth, making him (drumroll please) more like a con man than a tycoon.

That this is the same analysis some of us made at the beginning of Trump’s national political run eons ago won’t matter. Nor will it matter that Trump’s returns ought to be as embarrassing to media antagonists and a string of “reputable” politicians as they are to him, given that it was screamed to high heavens for years, from op-ed pages and cable news panels and the floor of the U.S. Senate, that proof of secret links to Vladimir Putin would be found. This idea never had merit — no sane person can think an espionage conspiracy would be detailed in a tax return — but a parade of experts and officials contended just this, including Chuck Schumer, George Will, Rachel Maddow and countless others:

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