Frank Bruni is a columnist for the New York Times.

Frank Bruni is a columnist for the New York Times.

Frank Bruni: The eternal sunshine of the spotless Trump

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Donald Trump has been recognized for his mastery of the media, his fascination with gilt and his bold advocacy for baffling hair.

But I think his greatest distinction is as a surrealist. Not since Salvador Dalí has someone so ambitiously jumbled reality and hallucination.

I’m thinking of his news conference in South Carolina on Monday and of one assertion in particular, although with Trump it is always hard to pick and choose.

In an appeal to African-American voters, he charged that Barack Obama had done nothing for them, and drew a contrast between himself and the president by saying: “I’m a unifier. Obama is not a unifier.”

The second of those sentences is debatable.

The first is just a joke. Trump sneeringly divides the world into winners and losers, savagely mocks those who challenge him, dabbles in sexism, marinates in racism, and on and on.

To call that unification is laughable under any circumstances. To make that claim to blacks is perverse. Not long ago, he insistently questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by latching onto the popular right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and couldn’t produce a proper U.S. birth certificate.

Has he forgotten that? Or is he simply betting that Americans have?

Every campaign is a painstaking manipulation of memory, an attempt to get voters to focus on only certain parts of the past and disregard the rest.

Candidates say that they are eager to run on their records, but what they want from voters is not total recall. It is selective amnesia.

Hillary Clinton would have us dwell on her fight for civil rights in the 1960s. She would prefer that we edit out bits of the 1990s, when she supported the crime bill and welfare reform.

Bernie Sanders would have us luxuriate in his vision of economic justice.

He would rather us not glance backward and note how little headway he has made to date.

But Trump is in a different category altogether. He does not so much recast his yesterdays as utterly reinvent them, confident that the brio of his proclamations will mask their bogusness.

Lately he has been trumpeting his prescience in having urged the Bush administration not to invade Iraq back in 2003, but there is no such urging on record.

The website PolitiFact went in search of it, combing through newspapers and television transcripts, and came up empty-handed.

“Trump makes it sound like he stood on a railroad to try to stop the Iraq war train in its tracks,” PolitFact reported. “In reality, by the time he got around to forcefully criticizing the war, that train had already left the station.”

His greatest trick, though, isn’t to toy with memory but to overwhelm it, rendering insults and provocations at such a hectic pace that the new ones eclipse and then expunge the old ones. It is as if the DVR of the electorate and the media can store only so many episodes before it starts erasing earlier indignities.

His flamboyant present overwrites his distressing past. It is the eternal sunshine of the spotless Trump.

His proposed ban on Muslims coming into the country exited the discussion much more quickly than it should have. So did his false claims that Muslims in Jersey City celebrated by the thousands on 9/11.

The sheer volume of his offenses minimizes each affront, and as his shock tactics become predictable, they inevitably grow less menacing, too.

We cannot lose track. We must keep score.

The sum of them is the essence of him, a picture worth a thousand slurs.