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Weirder than the aliens: Trump's America in 2017

If in 2012 a stranger tapped you on the shoulder, leaned in and whispered: "Donald Trump will be the president of the...

Posted: Dec. 21, 2017 3:44 AM
Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 11:56 AM

If in 2012 a stranger tapped you on the shoulder, leaned in and whispered: "Donald Trump will be the president of the United States in 2017 and also The New York Times, on a random Saturday in December, will publish a convincing report on the existence of aliens in our midst," you'd have wheeled away and laughed.

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President Donald Trump? OK, pal.

As it turns out, both things are true. Trump is definitely coming up on his first anniversary in office and the aliens are, if not currently levitating outside your window, apparently zipping around in (or controlling) UFOs, freaking out naval pilots, all as mysterious "metal alloys" sit in a storage space somewhere in Nevada.

The first year of the Trump era has turned American life utterly sideways. It has also -- and here's where the aliens come in -- scrambled our collective sense of what's truly sensational.

As such, it shouldn't come as a surprise that word of a shadowy Pentagon UFO study program has been met mostly with -\_(-)_/-s, and a few entertaining freakouts over all the -\_(-)_/-s. Real life is stranger than science fiction (or nonfiction) these days, and here, below, is part of the reason why -- a dozen or so things your pre-2017 self would've found more surprising, or confusing or plain ridiculous, than news of some modest intergalactic tourism.

That time the new president, Donald J. Trump, said this during his inaugural speech:

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

One of the former presidents in attendance, George W. Bush, reportedly offered a brief but memorable review.

"That," he said, "was some weird s--t."

That time the new White House press secretary screamed at reporters about crowd size

Said Sean Spicer, in a very loud voice, of the previous day's festivities: "That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe."

It wasn't. Spicer, who so memorably "huddled with his staff among bushes near television sets on the White House grounds" in order to avoid walking past reporters en route to his office on the night Trump fired FBI director James Comey, would leave his job in July. But not before suggesting, in April, that Hitler never used "gas on his own people." (A digression for which he later apologized.)

That time Trump's memory of attacking Syria was clouded by chocolate cake

"We had finished dinner," Trump recalled to Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. "We're now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and (Chinese) President Xi was enjoying it."

That's when, as the President told it, he informed Xi Jinping of his decision to launch an attack on Syria.

"I said, 'Mr. President, let me explain something to you' -- this was during dessert -- 'we've just fired 59 missiles,' all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing."

One snag. Trump, during the interview, misplaced the target.

"So, what happens is I said, 'We've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq -- "

Bartiromo interjected here to ask: "Heading to Syria?"

"Yes," Trump said. "Heading toward Syria."

That time top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway defended 'alternative facts'

There was a time before this expression existed. It ended on January 22, 2017. The third day of Trump's presidency.

That time Conway followed it up by inventing a terror attack

Not two weeks later, Conway offered some truly "brand new information" to support and defend Trump's travel ban. Here's what she told MSNBC:

"I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn't get covered."

That last line is right, up to a point. There was no "massacre," so no massacre was covered. The story she claimed to be referencing was, in fact, reported on. As she confirmed in a tweet linking to an ABC News report on it.

That time Trump accused Obama of 'tapping' his phones

In March, Trump accused his predecessor of tapping his phones during the election. Having no proof, he offered none. After about 10 days of saying he wouldn't comment on the tweet, then commenting, then not commenting some more, Spicer asked that Trump not be taken literally.

"The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities during that," he said.

That time Trump tried to kneecap the Russia probe

Let's try to get this over with in one sentence:

Trump fired his FBI director after asking him to ease up on his national security adviser, who's since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, leading the deputy attorney general (who made the decision because the attorney general recused himself after failing to disclose Russian contacts during his confirmation hearings) to appoint a special counsel, himself a former FBI director, to probe the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia, a decision that's led to multiple indictments and guilty pleas from people in Trump's inner circle, a number of whom are or might now be cooperating with prosecutors, a development that kicked off a seemingly coordinated effort among Trump's allies, most notably his friends at Fox News, to discredit the special counsel amid speculation Trump will try to fire him.

It was worth a try. (If you want more, here's a comprehensive tracker.)

That year on liberal conspiracy Twitter

Last December, about a month after the election, a guy named Eric Garland began a 127-tweet thread with the since meme-ified introduction: "Guys. It's time for some game theory." There followed an inane and rambling disquisition on how Russia installed Trump as president.

Since then, liberal Russia conspiracy Twitter, though mostly (and understandably) a secondary concern to the Alt-right on social media, has become a sort of cottage industry for anti-Trump folks who believe a more satisfying truth is out there.

It'd be funny, and inconsequential, if so many otherwise well-meaning people didn't parrot their baseless talking points. Alas, they do, and in so doing further cloud our already unstable reality.

The fever has mellowed a bit over the course of the year. Among the wake-up calls was this hilariously deluded blog post from former British MP Louise Mensch, who has made herself over as an investigative journalist, and Claude Taylor, a former (very) low level staffer in Bill Clinton's White House whose twitter handle is, no joke, @TrueFactsStated:

Next time you see a reference to the "marshal of the Supreme Court," you'll know why.

That time Trump's lawyers blabbed about his legal strategy in earshot of a reporter at lunch

In September, the White House special counsel, a man named Ty Cobb, broadcast the inner workings of Trump's Russia strategy during a boisterous outdoor lunch with a colleague. Because they were seated at a popular Washington steakhouse, close to both the White House and The New York Times' DC bureau, a Times reporter heard it all.

Here. Look:

That time Trump had his cabinet over for a chat

Among the words spoken...

Vice President Mike Pence: "Greatest privilege of my life to serve as your vice president."

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: "On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people." (Priebus would be fired in July.)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "We are receiving, as you know -- I'm not sure the rest of you fully understand -- the support of law enforcement all over America."

Energy Secretary Rick Perry: "My hat's off to you for taking that stand (on the Paris climate deal), for sending a clear message around the world that America is gonna continue to lead in the area of energy."

UN envoy Nikki Haley: "It's a new day at the United Nations. We now have a very strong voice. People know what the US is for, they know what we're against and they see us leading across the board."

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney: "With your direction we were able to also focus on the forgotten man and woman who are the folks who are paying those taxes, so I appreciate your support and your direction in pulling that budget together."

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: "I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given me and the leadership that you've shown." (Price would be forced out after amid a scandal over his use of private jets.)

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue: "I want to congratulate you on the men and women you've placed around this table. The holistic team of working for America is making results in each and every area."

That time Trump called the nuclear-armed North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'short and fat'

That was in a tweet, from November 11.

Back in September, Trump threatened to destroy North Korea and gave Kim a new nickname.

That time Trump tried to ban transgender people from the military... with tweets

Like a vice principal delivering the morning announcements, an uncharacteristically rote-sounding Trump made this proclamation over Twitter on a Wednesday morning in late July:

Fast-forward a few months and the Pentagon has said it will begin processing transgender military applicants on January 1. This after a federal judge declined earlier this month to put the deadline on hold.

That time Trump endorsed alleged child molester Roy Moore

Trump backed Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama's special Senate election, after Moore was accused of molestation, sexual assault and trying to date teenagers decades ago, when he was in his 30s. Moore lost the race. (More than a week after the vote, he has yet to concede.)

That time Sarah Sanders read a letter from a little boy to start a press briefing and people didn't believe he was real

In her first solo briefing after taking over the job, Sanders read a letter, addressed to Trump, from a young child. She even answered his questions.

Naturally, there was some skepticism. But a subsequent Washington Post investigation confirmed that, yes, "Pickle" was a real boy.

That time the President said there were some 'very fine people' among neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville

After hemming and hawing for a couple of days, Trump denounced the white supremacists responsible for kicking off deadly violence in Virginia. Then he told us what he really thought. In a wild, unplanned back-and-forth with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, the President became increasingly defensive.

"I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me," he said. "You also had some very fine people on both sides."

Republican leaders sent out a raft of scolding statements and Trump saw some departures from his private industry working groups, but there was no institutional response.

That time we found out aliens visited(?!?) Earth and no one really seems to care

Let's get meta.

Forget the aliens themselves. How about the fact, as noted by CNN's Steve Brusk, that no one is talking about the aliens. It's almost as if the country would prefer conspiracy theories to real evidence and now that we seem to have it, people are bored by the whole thing. Forced to choose between Trump and the aliens, Americans went with Trump.

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