[Today’s post is drawn from a larger one I did a few years ago. I repost this part from it because I think it’s important to show in a comprehensive, patterned way that President Trump not only occasionally misleads, he systemically distorts reality.]
I grieve over the carnage Trump’s campaign and now win has done to our respect for scientific evidence, reasoned discourse, and truth. Trump is perhaps the most dishonest politician of modern times. He has lied about almost everything.
First, to get the broad scope, consider journalist Nicholas Kristof’s comparisonof Trump to Clinton:
One metric comes from independent fact-checking websites. As of Friday, PolitiFact had found 27 percent of Clinton’s statements that it had looked into were mostly false or worse, compared with 70 percent of Trump’s. It said 2 percent of Clinton’s statements it had reviewed were egregious “pants on fire” lies, compared with 19 percent of Trump’s. So Trump has nine times the share of flat-out lies as Clinton.
Likewise, The Washington Post Fact-Checker has awarded its worst ranking, Four Pinocchios, to 16 percent of Clinton’s statements that it checked and to 64 percent of Trump’s…
“The man lies all the time,” says Thomas M. Wells, his former lawyer. Wells recalls being curious that newspaper accounts varied as to the number of rooms in Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower — eight, 16, 20 or 30. So Wells asked him how many rooms were actually in the apartment. “However many they will print,” Trump responded.
Tony Schwartz, the co-writer of his book “The Art of the Deal,” told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, “Lying is second nature to him.”
After noting, as Kristof does, Trump’s abysmal fact checking record, conservative Charles Murray makes this observation:
But it’s worse than that. It’s not that Trump makes strategic decisions about what useful untruths he will tell on any given day — it looks as if he just makes up stuff as he goes along. Many of his off-the-cuff fictions are substantively unimportant: He says Rex Ryan won championships when he coached the New York Jets, when he didn’t. No one would care — if it were a one-shot mistake. But it happens repeatedly. Then it gets a little more important, as when he says Paul Ryan called to congratulate him after his victory in the New York primary, announcing a significant political event that in fact did not happen. Then the fictions touch on facts about policy. No, Wisconsin does not have an effective unemployment rate of 20 percent, nor does the federal government impose Common Core standards on the states — to take just two examples plucked at random from among his continual misrepresentations of reality. That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.
As a sampling of specific lies consider the following: He claimed that he had seen thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attack, though the evidence refutes that this ever happened.
He once said that he and Vladimir Putin were friends: that they had spoken, “indirectly and directly” and that he had “got to know him [Putin] very well,” and that “Putin even sent me a present.” But in JulyTrump told ABC, “I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”
Trump promised repeatedly that he would release his tax returns, something he had previously attacked Mitt Romney for not doing. He later stalled, saying they were coming soon. Then he said he couldn’t release them yet because he was under an audit. As many have pointed out (including the IRS), this in no way creates a barrier to releasing one’s tax returns. Now Trump appears to not be releasing them at all. (The Daily News breakdown of this story here is very revealing.)
One of Trump’s most pernicious lies came toward the end of his campaign. At one of Obama’s rallies for Hillary a Trump supporter stood up to protest. Obama told the crowd to respect the man’s right to free speech, also noting that he deserved respect because he was elderly and looked to be a veteran. In Trump’s spin on this incident he claimed repeatedly that Obama was “screaming…really screaming” at the protester.
Just recently Trump tweeted, with absolutely no evidence, that he had actually won the popular vote; not Hillary. At current count Hillary leads in the popular vote by 2.8 million.
Trump lies about statistics, wildly misrepresents trends, and slanders his opponents. For example, through much of his campaign he claimed there were as many as 30 million undocumented immigrants in the US (actual estimates are closer to 11 million). He claimed that crime was at record high levels (in fact, despite increases in cities like Chicago, crime was nationally near an all time low).
He claimed that Hillary wanted to abolish the Second Amendment (she wants no such thing). He inflated the number of refugees she sought to bring in to the United States. After Comey’s announcement of more e-mails and a reopening of the investigation into Hillary, Trump guaranteed his audience that there was evidence of criminal malfeasance and that this was “bigger than Watergate.” In fact, Comey himself had not yet obtained a warrant to begin examining the e-mails and Clinton was again exonerated.
Trump claims he did not say things he is literally on tape saying: that he did not support the Iraq War (he did), that he did not support nuclear proliferation (he did), that he had not called for a 45 percent tariff on China (he did), and so on. When confronted with audio or video evidence that refutes him, he often simply buckles down on the lie.
Even more insidiously, he accuses news sources that call him out on unquestionable falsehoods of being biased and the actual ones that are lying! This degrades notions of factual truth. It undercuts people’s trust in credible sources and institutions and tries to redirect them to fraudulent or kooky ones in their staid. As I will go into more shortly, it undercuts an independent free press, which in turn corrodes our democratic way of life.
It’s one thing to say various news sources come from a particular vantage point and slant. Of course they do. That is human nature. That’s why we all would do well to take in information from a variety of credible sources from different perspectives (we liberals need to do that too). If a news source is actually mistaken, of course they should be corrected – with actual evidence. But it’s another thing to accuse a source of straight-up lying or slandering you, without any evidence and in the face of documentation. That kind of combustive, calculated dishonesty is scary! On a number of levels.
Trump is a purveyor of conspiracy theories: that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the plot to shoot JFK, that Justice Antonin Scalia might have been assassinated, that Obama was secretly trying to help ISIS, that the establishment was rigging the elections against him, that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese, and so on. When called out by NBC’s Chuck Todd about one of his false theories, Trump ducked responsibility claiming: “All I know is what’s on the internet.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump regularly used the lines, “a lot of people are saying…” or “there is something going on” to introduce his most wild insinuations. This allowed him to forward the most ridiculous claims while being vague enough to maintain plausible deniability.
Considering Trump’s lack of consistency and his willingness to shift his views depending on what his audience wants to hear, it is not surprising that he has flip-flopped on a number of issues from refugees to abortion to minimum wage to his Muslim ban to the Iraq War.
“Researchers at NBC News have catalogued Trump’s positions on major issues since the start of the campaign.
They found, as of early October: 18 different positions on immigration reform; 15 different positions on banning Muslims; nine different positions on how to defeat ISIS; eight different positions on raising the minimum wage; seven different tax plans, and eight different strategies for dealing with the national debt.”
Implicit in what has been said before, Trump demonstrates a lack of respect for evidence, research, or science. His views on climate change and autism fly in the face of evidence. He used unscientific online response polls to “prove” he won the first debate (more scientifically controlled polls told a different story). He not only demonstrates shocking ignorance about world affairs but seems to be obstinately unwilling to learn or be corrected. Even now, it’s being reported that he is skipping out on intelligence briefings.
In a related matter, Trump’s manner of engaging others is vapid and inane. He regularly engages in insults, interruptions, bullying, dazzle and puff over detailed policy comparisons, and even literal dick size allusions.
The problem is bigger than Trump though. The GOP has catered to conspiratorial and un-scientific views for decades: skepticism about evolution, white-washing American history, misleading views about Muslims and foreigners, conspiracy theories about Obama, beliefs that gay people can be “cured” of their sexual orientation, and so on. I’m sure the Democrats have their falsehoods too. But it seems to me that, in general, they have more respect for science and evidence-based discourse.
It’s also the case that people are not reading or researching critically enough. We live in the age of polarization and instant “fake news.” As one person put it, a lie can now circle the globe before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on. Evidenceafter the election showed that literally made up stories were often shared more frequently on Facebook than real news of substance. Perhaps most disturbing, there is strong evidencethat the Russian government intentionally flooded the internet with fake news stories to sway the election for Trump.
Polarized “echo chambers” and fake news are problems all parties fall prey to to some extent. We can all do better. But it seems to me that the right has reached new “conspiratorial” lows in recent years, even for them.
When I was a teenager I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. The book is on how different forms of media constrain the way we reason and communicate. Postman saw the rise of sensationalized tv and video as undermining our ability to think critically and deeply, to communicate with depth of learning and nuance. One could debate the pros and cons of different forms of media. Steven Pinker argues that television has helped raise our empathy for those outside our “in-groups.” I suppose few things have completely positive or negative results. But when I see what we have become and how little we care about facts or objective truth – how little we even seem to believe in them – I think about Postman and I think he would be turning in his grave if he saw how truly idiotic we have become.