Language has a flexibility that can, even if with glaring implausibility, present events in a way that serves causes other than probity or the common good.
It is more than a decade since a member of the Catholic hierarchy offered the idea of moral reservation — the conceit that a lie was an acceptable response if it was used with good intentions and served what the perpetrator imagined was the greater need.
It is just over three years since Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway offered her infamous phrase “alternative facts” when she defended the lies told about the small crowd at his inauguration.
Trump’s current advisers will also have to offer alternative facts if his weekend rally is to be presented as anything other than what it was — an unmitigated flop. That flexibility of language is, thankfully, a two-way street.
Trump’s return to the campaign trail, despite official warnings on Covid-19, turned to humiliation when he failed to fill a 19,000-seater arena in Tulsa in the Republican stronghold of Oklahoma.
“The Emperor has no crowd,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a Barack Obama adviser.
The glee, and relief, behind that sentence are palpable. Is it possible to hope the worm has turned and most Americans, no matter what their political loyalties, have recognised the threat Trump poses to American stability and international co-operation?
It underlines Trump’s disconnected world that this rally was called as a pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans is wreaking havoc and that more than 40m Americans have lost their jobs because of it.
That disconnect was further underlined when an overflow event outside the venue was cancelled because of a lack of interest despite his claim of more than a million ticket requests.
A dangerous expression of that disconnect was seen at the venue. Armed “militias” — pro-Trump vigilantes — hovered.
“I’m here to keep the protesters at bay,” said one. “If they start destroying and raising hell, we’re going to go and stop them.” Tragically, it is far easier to imagine this intimidation might, sooner or later, at one rally or another, boil over with lethal consequences than it is to imagine Trump might ask these “militias” to stay away.
That disconnect is also reflected in opinion polls. A national Ipsos/Reuters poll published this weekend found Democratic challenger Joe Biden leads Trump 48% to 35%.
Biden has led Trump in almost every Ipsos poll this year, but this week’s gap is the largest in 2020.
If the passion and energy behind the Black Lives Matter protests endures until November’s polling day, it seems possible to hope Trump will be consigned to political history before Christmas.
It would be premature to write his political obituary, especially as America’s voting system is so rigged, but it is not too early to learn lessons, particularly as our politicians struggle to form a government.
Trump prevailed because there was a vacuum, because his political opponents imagined there was no alternative to what they had to offer.
There is always an alternative even if they prove unattractive. In 2016, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton could not imagine a President Trump.
For those trying to form our next government the parallels, and the warnings are all too obvious.