"Pickle" - Donald Trump's Nine-Year-Old "Imaginary Friend"
It's no secret that lately president Donald Trump's approval rating hasn't been particularly high. Whatever your own personal opinion of the Republican leader, it's clear from the polls that he's starting to see a bit of a dip in support, even among those people who voted for him so enthusiastically in the presidential election. But have his ratings gotten so bad that he's invented an imaginary friend to act as a supporter?
According to Gallup, a research company which routinely analyses public opinion, President Trump's approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking currently stands at a low 34 percent as of August 14. To put this figure into perspective, Trump's highest ever three-day reading was 46 percent approval, a figure recorded just days after his January inauguration. Since then, he has averaged a 40 percent approval rating since he assumed office, and now has the lowest Gallup rating for a first presidential term.
Trump has made headlines continually over the last week; engaging in a game of jingoistic one-upmanship with the totalitarian state of North Korea, even going to far as to goad them into military action with threats of "fire and fury." The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a 32-year-old woman and two police officers perished also dominated news coverage over the weekend, which has gone a long way towards explaining Trump's unpopularity.
In a time of strife like this, you'd think that maybe Donald Trump would need a friend: someone young and innocent and enthusiastic to show his detractors that he has some backup. Apparently, 34 percent of Americans are still behind him all the way, so it's not that unlikely that he has ardent fans of all ages. Yet when White House Press Secretary Huckabee Sanders attempted to introduce the world to a little boy who believed in Donald Trump, she was met with suspicion and skepticism from some members of the media, and outright scorn and derision from other quarters. Some people even went so far as to claim that Donald Trump had invented an imaginary friend.
On Wednesday July 16 while at a press briefing, Sanders read a supposed letter from a nine-year-old boy to a group of gathered reporters, using the message as an example of the "forgotten men, women and children," that she claimed Trump was fighting for.
The message from the young boy (whose second name had been blanked out) read: "Dear President Trump: My name Dylan. Every body calls me Pickle. I'm 9 years old and you are my favrit President. I like you so much I had a birthday about you. My cake was the shap of your hat. How old ar you? How big is the white hose? How much monny do you have? I dont know why people dont like you. You seem nice can we be friends? My pitcher is in here so if you see me you can say hi. Your friend, Dylan.[sic]"
Dylan aka Pickle thank you for your letter and hope to meet you soon! pic.twitter.com/XZlJARZ9cs
— Sarah Huckabee (@SarahHuckabee) July 26, 2017
Immediately, a number of media outlets and Twitter users accused Dylan, (aka: Pickle), of being a character fabricated by Trump's spin doctors to make the president look good. The spelling mistakes in the letter, the fawning over Trump and especially the incongruous nickname (Pickle? Seriously?) all compounded to make it appear as though Trump was talking to himself. Trump's critics immediately claimed that Pickle was Trump's imaginary friend, and that no such child existed. Moments after the image of the letter was uploaded to Twitter, social media users began posting mock versions of the letter that lampooned Trump’s policies and controversies.
The AV Club penned an article entitled "Nonexistent child named 'Pickle' supports Donald Trump, so we all should too". Mashable went with the title "The White House reading letters from kids praising Trump feels so wrong," and The Huffington Post asked incredulously: "Is there really a kid called “Pickle” who wants to be the president’s friend?"
Some people even theorised that Vice President Mike Pence was the true author of the childish letter. Nobody seemed willing to accept the possibility that this kid might be real, that a nine-year-old might just really be that much of a fan of Donald Trump, and think of him as a cool, aspirational hero. Instead, conspiracy theorists cast Dylan as someone akin to Harvey the Rabbit, or Hobbes the tiger from Calvin and Hobbes.
The longer the child went without actually being identified, the more mad and feverish the speculation became. Armchair detectives started combing through old interviews for any kernel of information regarding the origins of Pickle, some vital revelation that would prove beyond doubt that he was an imaginary friend. The Pickle disbelievers zoned in on the mention of money.
Wasn't that the sort of question that those who wanted Trump to be transparent about his taxes would ask, albeit subtly? Even more suspicious was the fact that Pickle had had a Trump-themed birthday. What kid fantasises about being a 71-year-old politician, and not a superhero or a Jedi knight?
Then there was his name. "Pickle." It just sounded insanely far-fetched. Even if there was a little boy out there with that most auspicious moniker, it seemed unlikely that he would mention it in a letter addressed to the President of the United States. People claimed that the name was a reference to the animated series "The Rugrats" and that Pickle was actually the name of Pence's cat!
Over time the questions got even more probing. For example, the notebook paper, which had apparently been mailed to the White House didn’t have crease marks you'd expect to find on a folded envelope? And wasn't it weird that a kid would have spelled ‘"people" and ‘"friend’" correctly, but then spelled "how" wrong?
You can imagine everyone's shock and surprise when it turned out that young Dylan was 100 percent real! Instead of denouncing the pint-sized Trump fan as purely fictitious, The Washington Post did a little bit of sleuthing and determined that Pickle did actually exist. They wrote, "we found Pickle. He is real, definitely real. He likes watching baseball and playing on his scooter and Donald Trump." It turned out that Dylan Harbin was called "Dyl-Pickle" by his brother when he was a baby, who eventually dropped the "Dyl" part of his name.
Dylan's mother Sue Ann was apparently taken aback by her son’s sudden love for Trump, but supports him regardless. She was even more taken aback when one of Trump's aides asked for permission to read Dylan's letter out loud, and mortified when people on the internet openly denounced her son as being a PR stunt. "‘Honestly, I thought, how can adults be so mean about a 9-year-old boy?’’ Sue Ann asked, "He's real. Not fake."
This whole fiasco certainly goes a long way towards explaining the newfound sense of paranoia when it comes to information from the White House. In some cases, it's a good indication of a society willing to think critically about press briefing and statements. But in this instance it led all of us on a wild goose chase. In any case, I wish Dylan all the best in his future political career.