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Remember Trump’s Charlottesville Comments? Conservatives Don’t.

Why "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams, a Breitbart editor, and others claim the president's "very fine people" remark is a "false memory"

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

Joe Biden often reminds audiences that President Donald Trump once said the white supremacists who marched around Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” were “very fine people.” But in August, when the former vice president made this point at the Iowa State Fair, an editor from Breitbart was waiting to confront him. For weeks, Joel Pollak had hounded Biden, accusing him of spreading a hoax about Charlottesville. “Are you aware that you’re misquoting Donald Trump?” Pollak asked at the fair. “He never called neo-Nazis very fine people.”

Trump never uttered that exact phrase, but during his press conference at Trump Tower three days after the rally, he did say there were “very fine people on both sides” of the confrontation. At the time, conservatives downplayed it, but two years after Charlottesville, they have moved on to denying it ever happened. Scott Adams, the creator of the comic Dilbert, harnessed his skills as a “trained hypnotist” on his podcast this March to demonstrate that the scandal was a “false memory,” a kind of nationwide collective delusion. In August, the phony academic outlet Prager University published a viral video calling the “very fine people” controversy a hoax. Trump retweeted the clip. Meanwhile, Pollak has earned a reputation in Trumpian circles as a righteous truth-teller; in August, after the scuffle with Biden in Iowa, Rush Limbaugh praised Pollak for “traveling around trying to set the record straight.”

It’s no secret that conservative media outlets play fast and loose with facts, but by claiming that Trump’s Charlottesville gaffe never happened, they are actively working to destabilize the public’s recollection. In doing so, they’re exploiting a distinctly postmodern turn in political commentary. Pundits paraphrase so much of what Trump says and tweets that it’s easy to forget the substance of these utterances and outbursts. Add to this Trump’s habit of rephrasing his own statements and you’re further from anything resembling reality: Just last month, he declared he was “the chosen one,” before saying he was only kidding; a few weeks earlier, he had joked “Too bad!” when Elijah Cummings’s house was broken into, only to deny that he ever made light of the incident. Trump sees facts as fundamentally malleable—after all, he has claimed the notorious Access Hollywood tape that caught him bragging about sexual assault was doctored—so it only makes sense that his boosters in the media would realize anything he says can be modified, distorted, or simply erased after the fact. When the man you support is unambiguous about where his loyalties lie, it’s easier to reply, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”