Of course, it had to happen.
The news this week that President Donald Trump’s handlers may have digitally altered his photographs to make him appear not only slimmer and younger, but with… wait for it… longer fingers, is the perfect metaphor for a White House the repeatedly bends the truth to suit its own ends.
This particularly odd turn comes courtesy of The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who’s become sort of the Polybius of Trump’s Washington, chronicling every twist and turn of the chaotic 45th president’s equally chaotic White House, with a kind of forensic glee.
According to Milbank, the tech website Gizmodo reported this week that it had found at least three retouched photographs on Trump’s social media pages since last October.
Those included two recent pictures in which the fast-food favoring chief executive’s face and body were slimmed down, his wrinkles were smoothed, his cotton-candy textured coif was smoothed, and, weirdly, that his “fingers were made slightly longer.”
According to Milbank, Gizmodo compared original photos to the retouched ones and concluded that the digital gnomes had given Trump a fresh coat by using either Photoshop or FaceTune, and that the changes to the president’s hands suggest that the image-obsessed Leader of the Free World “had some input in these alterations.”
This may seem a relatively trivial blip in the midst of the longest-running government shutdown in American history, in which more than 800,000 federal employees are going without pay, including TSA officers at the airports and Coast Guard sailors at sea.
But there’s a larger truth here: As is the case with everything else, Trump has made this story all about himself, about his duel with the Democrats and his promise to deliver on a wall — the effects on the long-term stability and credibility of our institutions be darned.
So, the fact that he’s altering photographs to make himself look better in the eyes of the public — and posterity — shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
And that fits right in with Trump’s barely glancing relationship with the truth in his barrage of his public utterances.
Remember, as of Jan. 21, Trump had made 8,158 false or misleading claims during his two years in office, according to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.
By the time most of you read this, you can pretty much bet the ranch that the tally will have increased.
Indeed, the entire government shutdown is premised on the provably false claim of a crisis at America’s southern border with Mexico.
Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican whose district includes 800 miles of the border, has said, according to Fox News, that the border crisis is a “myth,” and Trump’s push for a wall is a “3rd century solution to a 21st century problem.”
So, it must be galling for a president so obsessed with image-control to know that, 33 days into the shutdown, he’s losing the argument for his policies.
A pair of polls released Wednesday, one by Politico/Morning Consult, the other by CBS News, find Trump’s approval ratings at new lows, and voters fleeing from the border wall as a cure for the shutdown.
That Politico poll found Trump’s disapprovals at a staggering 57 percent. The poll of 1,996 voters, conducted from Jan. 18-22, had a margin of error of just 2 percent.
In the CBS poll, 71 percent of 1,102 telephone respondents didn’t think the “issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they now say is having a negative impact on the country.”
That same CBS poll gave House Speaker Nancy Pelosi higher marks than Trump for her handling of the crisis. And a clear majority of respondents to the Politico poll, 54 percent, blamed Trump and congressional Republicans for the roadblock.
So you kind of can’t blame Trump for trying to control the only thing he has any control over in this instance — the face he presents to the public.
But, like Dorian Gray, however Trump might try to smooth out his public wrinkles, all he’s doing is papering over the damage he’s doing to the country.
And you can’t fix that with Photoshop.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.