Last month, 15 boxes of materials from Donald Trump’s presidency were retrieved from his home at Mar-a-Lago by employees of the National Archives — boxes that contained, among other things, letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and former President Barack Obama.
The news comes after CNN reported that National Archives staff had to tape together some Trump White House documents that were provided to the House committee investigating January 6 because they had been ripped up.
CNN’s Gabby Orr had more Monday on Trump’s paper-ripping habit, writing:
“Three former White House officials told CNN they saw Trump, on numerous occasions, manually destroy papers he was no longer interested in or had finished reviewing — a practice that made it difficult for White House staff secretaries to preserve presidential records. Those officials said the former President sorted through file boxes in a rather methodical way — tearing up newspaper clippings or drafts of tweets that he had rejected and tossing them to the floor, or stacking papers he wished to hang on to in a disorderly stack atop his desk.”
This is a very big deal. And should be getting much more attention than it currently is.
Consider what we know about Trump: At every turn, he sought to stretch the rules of the modern presidency to a breaking point. He leaned on the Justice Department to do his bidding. He called election officials to urge them to “find” more votes that were favorable to him. He implored the Ukrainian president to look into a likely 2020 general election opponent. And on and on and on.
The defining trait of Trump’s time in office was how little regard he had for the limitations that even the highest of offices had. He ran roughshod over everyone and everything in his way. He expressed little concern for the way things had always been done. He was reckless in the extreme.
Plus, he didn’t tell the truth. Like, a lot.
Then there’s this: Trump is — and has always been — a fabulist. He is uniquely obsessed with always portraying himself as a winner — dating back to his days as a young professional when he made up an employee — named John Barron — who would call the New York tabloids and spread pro-Trump gossip.
At every stage of his life, Trump has creatively edited the narrative to make himself look better. His many bankruptcies weren’t failures, they were savvy business moves. His party’s setbacks in the 2018 campaign were, actually, an upsetting of expectations and a victory. His botched handling of the coronavirus pandemic? He deserved more credit than he got. Riiiiight.
When you combine that series of Trump traits, you see a) how difficult it will be for the National Archives to ever get a complete picture of the Trump presidency and b) why it is so, so important that it does everything in its power to do so.
Trump is already in the process of trying to rewrite the history of his term in office, most notably with his repeated false assertions that the 2020 election was rigged. (It wasn’t.) And as his four years as president get further in the rearview mirror, our collective memory may begin to falter when it comes remembering the Trump years — and what a cataclysm he represented (and represents) for American democracy.
That’s what makes the work of a nonpartisan entity like the National Archives curating his presidency so important. And why Trump’s hijacking of boxes of information about his presidency is so concerning.