When trying to sum up 2016, you might have trouble when it comes to Donald Trump. Because how do you summarize someone who is constantly changing their story? On more than one occasion this year, that storyteller has been the president-elect . "I never said that," he'll respond to a verbatim quote. Or perhaps he'll contradict himself — or his team — with no mind given to continuity. Donald Trump's 2016 contradictions are just the beginning, but it's still important to understand what his story once was, and where he is now on key issues.
The reason I say this is just beginning is because he clearly doesn't know what his people are putting out. Just take a look at his recent discussion with reporters about the Berlin truck attack. Trump had said in a statement, "ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad." Then when a reporter asked about him saying the attack "being against Christians," Trump seemed completely stumped. "Who said that?" the president-elect asked. To which the reporter responded, "I believe you said it in a press release."
If Trump, when president, doesn't pay attention to his own press releases, this will surely happen again. He will repeatedly disavow his own statements and expect us to let him. And why wouldn't he? So far it has worked pretty well. He has denied incendiary statements about the Iraq War, pregnancy and family leave, and global warming. So after he takes office, expect him to tell you what you want to hear, and then completely change course later on.
Take his stance on the banning of Muslim visitors from entering the country. He called for a "complete shutdown" in a statement before going on CBS' This Morning and dialing back his comments. He said on the program, "I didn't say shut it down." Note that he did. Trump continued, "I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders. We have to be tough."
That has gotten less attention since he advocated for a Muslim registry — a far more offensive proposal (if you can even compare the two discriminatory ideas). His team later claimed that he had done no such thing.
Sometimes it's trivial, too. Trump made a big deal to Bill O'Reilly about not using the F-word. But he totally did use it. At a speech in New Hampshire while talking about jobs moving to Mexico, he singled out the businesses crossing borders: "You can tell them to go f*ck themselves! Because they let you down, and they left!" Trump said. He also later attacked the former Mexican president Vicente Fox for using the same kind of language.
That might seem less important when compared with the contradictions that effect real policy which in turn affects real people. But by letting Trump get away with this at all — be it about swearing or his response to a terror attack — lets him then go on to do so whenever he likes. Threatening Muslim Americans and then claiming he didn't is an example. Or endangering the world's environment and then pulling an "I did not, I do not say that" excuse is another.
Enabling Trump's contradictions in any one area makes it impossible to hold him accountable in every other. Sadly such contradictions and "I never said that" moments are unlikely to end, and therefore the press needs a game plan. We need Trump to have all the checks and balances outside of the GOP Senate, GOP House, and the eight-member SCOTUS that we can muster. Hopefully there's a plan in place by Jan. 20.