Alternative Fact of the Week: The Omarosa v. Trump conundrum

Our view: Whom do you believe when it’s the word of a reality TV star inside the White House against the word of a reality TV star he hired and fire multiple times? How about neither?

For those who watched “The Apprentice,” the reality TV show that helped propel Donald J. Trump into national prominence and, ultimately, the White House, Omarosa Manigault Newman represented a familiar archetype — the self-centered amoral schemer. It made for entertaining television. What wild thing might she do next and what would Mr. Trump say about it? With this week’s release of her book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” she and President Trump were back on the tube battling for public attention. It all sounds like great fun until you realize they aren’t squabbling over how to market Trump brand bottled water or lure gamblers into a Trump brand casino or some other trivial faux-conflict, but over the inner workings of a dysfunctional White House.

So which narcissistic media-manipulator do you believe? The president who promised to hire “only the best people” or the former senior White House aide, the most prominent African American in the West Wing, who secretly taped her firing by chief of staff John Kelly and post-firing phone call with Mr. Trump where he expressed surprise at her departure? As one might expect, the leader of the free world (if you don’t count Germany or maybe France) went right to the place Americans have come to expect: Twitter. He belittled Ms. Manigault Newman calling her a “dog” and a “crazed, crying lowlife” as well as “wacky” and deranged.” Now there’s some turns of phrase you won’t find in the historical biographies of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy.

And that’s not even the most noteworthy or revealing thing President Trump said about her this week. Surely, the most telling tweet was the one where he recalled how Ms. Manigault Newman had so enthusiastically praised him. “Look at her MANY recent quotes saying...such wonderful and powerful things about me — a true Champion of Civil Rights — until she got fired,” the president wrote. OK, you got her there, Mr. Trump. She was obviously lying. Unless you want the public to believe that a white nationalist-leaning president who has cynically used immigration to gin up fear of dark-skinned minorities, who despairs of “s***hole” countries, likes to describe prominent African Americans as having a “low IQ” and views Mexicans as rapists is the second coming of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Clearly, the president just wants people around him to fawn so what’s reality got to do with it?

Let’s make it clear. The Trump-Manigault Newman feud makes Alternative Fact of the Week not because one of them is truthful and one of them is a prevaricator. They make the cut because neither one ought to be trusted without a stack of authentication. When Ms. Manigault Newman accuses the president of having used the n-word but fails to provide that proof — and, oh, by the way, accepts a senior position in the White House — it’s pretty darn difficult to just take her word for it. Yet, weirdly, she seems to have some corroboration in those secret recordings to back up several claims so far that initially seemed outrageous — that Mr. Kelly threatened to harm her reputation and that Mr. Trump expressed surprise at her firing. Then there’s the alleged offer of $15,000 a month from the Trump campaign to stay silent about it all. Finance records show $15,000-a-month payments to other ex-aides so it’s not exactly beyond the pale. Neither is her claim of sweeping nondisclosure agreements that Mr. Trump makes his aides sign.

In politics, this kind of conflagration where no one looks good is generally regarded as a “dumpster fire.” It’s unproductive, and it’s ugly. But one of them is an ex-aide who is famous for being fired and for scheming behind the backs of others. The other is president of the United States and ought to have more important things to do than get into a nasty public debate over racial slurs he may have used. A double standard? Absolutely. That comes with the Oval Office. Here’s another thing Mr. Trump and Ms. Manigault Newman have in common besides their propensity to lie: Neither was ever remotely qualified for their jobs. The difference is that one is acting as a celebrity and entertaining the masses with wild, inappropriate behavior while the other is hawking her book.

Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad