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“I didn’t win the election,” said Trump.

The clause came in a sentence spoken in an interview granted to a group of historians that seemed to particularly impress Trump according to a new article in the Atlantic.

Perhaps Trump was particularly flattered that such an austere group would come to him, interested in what he believed and saw throughout his presidency. He answered questions on camera put to him by a group of scholarly historians put together by Julian Zelizer, a Princeton professor and editor of The Presidency of Donald Trump: A First Historical Assessment. The Atlantic’s interview was published on Monday, and the fallout continues today.

In an almost startlingly statement that one would certainly not expect from Trump, he at least recognized the seriousness and intellectual approach of the people around him:

I’m looking at the list, it’s a tremendous group of people, and I think rather than being critical I’d like to have you hear me out, which is what we’re doing now, and I appreciate it.

“Just hear me out,” Trump seems to be begging the panel of history professors. It almost sounds like a transaction (typical Trump), “hear me out, I’ll tell you the truth.”

In answering the panel’s questions, Trump seems primarily focused on his administration’s global impact, framed as positively as one would expect, and perhaps he was distracted while explaining why certain countries would be happy to see him gone when he made the admission. He congratulated himself for forcing South Korea to pay more for US military assistance and said that South Korean Moon Jae was among the “happiest” world leaders after the 2020 US election put Joe Biden in the White House.

Then it happened:

“By not winning the election, he was the happiest man – I would say, in order, China was – no, Iran was the happiest.

And again:

“[Moon] was going to pay $5bn, $5bn a year. But when I didn’t win the election, he had to be the happiest – I would rate, probably, South Korea third- or fourth-happiest.”

He quickly came back around to saying, “the election was rigged and lost.” But, again, it is not impossible to imagine a setting in which Trump is trying to impress the intellectuals around him by searching for the truth on one topic and letting the truth slip on another, only to recover and return to instinctive answers only a moment later.

A few of his comments demonstrate that his focus certainly did come back around to his anger and how everyone lies about him, speaking about books already release about him. Perhaps Trump was contrasting this group of scholars with the authors who already published books when Trump said:

It seems to me that meeting with authors of the ridiculous number of books being written about my very successful administration, or me, is a total waste of time. These writers are often bad people who write whatever comes to their mind or fits their agenda. It has nothing to do with facts or reality.

So, in contrast to the group sitting in front of him, the rest of those people are bad and have their own agenda, but these scholarly people couldn’t be or they wouldn’t be studying him? It is a possible explanation. If there was ever an environment in which Trump might let the truth slip, this would seem to be a good fit. After all, it did slip out.

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