If you’re not one of President Trump’s many foes, chances are he considers you a friend. And if he considers you a friend, well, you better be ready for the world to know about it. Nearly every speech or public appearance Trump makes features some reference to the vast number of friends he’s collected over the years – from Oprah to Muhammad Ali – or to the close relationship he now has with the person he only met five minutes beforehand. But one of Trump’s “friends” is now making waves, and not because he doesn’t want to be associated with the president. It’s because he probably doesn’t exist.
The Associated Press – a bastion of seriousness and nonpartisanship – published an absolutely scorching, borderline satirical take entitled “Trump in Paris: The curious case of his friend Jim” on July 12. In it, reporter Vivian Salama describes how Trump often used his friend “Jim” as an example to reinforce his own views and opinions of how things were, truly, in line with how he believed them to be. Jim has often been used as a rhetorical device for feigning national agreement with a less-than-universal belief, plain and simple. But then Trump told a crowd at CPAC on February 24 that his “very, very substantial” friend Jim used to love Paris and go there every year, but Jim, apparently, felt that Paris had changed and was no longer as great as it used to be. Paris, for its part, wasn’t having it – and the mayor of that city encouraged Trump to come visit for himself and bring his friend Jim, too.
Thus began the hunt for Paris-hating Trump-friend Jim. The New Yorker identified lots of people named Jim who may have known and forged a friendship with Trump, but it wasn’t able to pinpoint a likely candidate. And in the lead-up to Trump’s big trip to Paris for Bastille Day, Salama tried going straight to the source. She didn’t have any luck, writing in her story that “the White House has not responded to a request for comment about who Jim is or whether he will be on the trip.” And maybe, just maybe, Trump could’ve acknowledged in one of his many tweets the night after it was published that Jim was in fact a real, live person that he actually knew . . . or confess that he was a device for amping up a crowd and not a flesh-and-blood individual.
But this is Trump we’re talking about. Of course he didn’t.
Instead, he left it to the internet to slowly creep toward the realization that perhaps the President of the United States was in possession of an imaginary friend. A meme was born. And, unfortunately for Trump, it wasn’t limited to the United States, as he had used Jim to do some damage to a city internationally. So, when he took questions from the audience after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, it should come as no surprise that a member of the international press took the opportunity to inquire about Jim and who, exactly, the mystery man was.
Reporter asks about Trump’s friend, “Jim,” who says Paris is no longer Paris-and who may or may not exist. Still no confirmation from Trump. pic.twitter.com/DqR0lC9jEY
– Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 13, 2017
The president chose to dodge the question completely, instead saying that the city itself had nothing to worry about with regards to his comments from six months earlier. “It’s going to be just fine because you have a great president,” he insisted. What he perhaps did not realize is that his response seemed to confirm what many already suspected: that Jim isn’t, and never was, real.
Instead, he’s Trump’s Jiminy Cricket – or a lesser version, as he doesn’t tell him what’s right and what’s wrong. He merely serves as the internal support for the negative stances Trump takes on issues when he doesn’t have the sort of support from his administration that he’d like. Jim lessens the heat when he chooses to pick a fight that nobody understands, like with America’s allies, or to deny the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election despite the mountain of evidence that supports that thesis. But the second things are the way that they are supposed to be, and Trump returns to a more civil, presidential stance. He does what most imaginary friends do. He disappears.
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get confirmation from the White House about anything relating to Jim, which means he’s likely to remain a topic of debate for years to come. But what we can all take away from this saga in the ever-increasing wildness that is 2017, is that you don’t have to be alone in taking an unpopular opinion that nobody agrees with: you’ve always got Jim.