We are all aware that Donald Trump lies—repeatedly, and without remorse. That is outrageous enough; but equally outrageous is the insistence of some of his handlers that truth no longer matters: what Trump says, he believes to be true, and therefore it is true. Never mind the facts.
Throughout the campaign he built on the post-truth paradigm, starting with the birther myth and continuing through lies such as: Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attack; his tax returns cannot be revealed because of an IRS audit; his charitable contributions are very generous; and Trump University provided an excellent education.
The media continue to be too charitable when discussing Trump’s lies. The New York Times just published ten “fake news” stories that Trump has generated over the years, ranging from health care to unemployment. Typical of Trump, who (according to the actual author of The Art of the Deal) only reads stuff about himself; his sources are right-wing rags on the Internet, such as Breitbart.
But posting fake news is lying, isn’t it? For even when the honest media corrects him, as the Times story indicates, Trump does not retreat. He knowingly persists, which to me is what makes his reporting the equivalent of lying.
So how do Trump’s people get around the lying? By redefining opinion as truth. Vice President-elect Mike Pence shocked interviewer George Stephanopoulos in the following exchange regarding Trump’s claim that three million people illegally voted in November:
PENCE: Well, it’s his right to express his opinion as president-elect of the United States.
I think one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect and one of the reasons why I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country is because he tells you what’s on his mind.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But why is it refreshing to make false statements?
PENCE: Look, I don’t know that that is a false statement, George, and neither do you. The simple fact is that…
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know there’s no evidence for it.
Pence would not relent:
PENCE: I think the American people find it very refreshing that they have a president who will tell them what’s on his mind. And I think the connection that he made in the course…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether it’s true or not?
Believe it or not, Pence said “true or not” wasn’t the important question. George Orwell (the author of 1984) is smiling.
Trump lies so often that it is hard to keep up. But here are a few recent lies that strike me as being particularly notorious:
· When James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, tried to reassure Trump that the intelligence community had “not made any judgment” about the infamous dossier’s reliability, Trump tweeted that he had been told by Clapper that the report was “false and fictitious,” and “illegally circulated.”
· Trump accused CNN of turning over the dossier to the media. In fact, CNN neither divulged the dossier nor linked its story to BuzzFeed.
· Trump said he would put the Trump Organization in the hands of his sons. But he bragged that he could run both the organization and the government. Does anyone seriously believe Trump won’t be involved in running his empire? He’s been doing business every day since his election. When he promised no new investments abroad, that didn’t include expansion of existing properties, like his golf course in Scotland. Expect more of such calculated ambiguity, aka lying.
· Trump insists he really won the popular vote because 3 million people voted illegally. It’s a lie, plain and simple. Trump is incapable of admitting that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a H-U-G-E margin.
· Trump says he has held numerous press conferences, which he asserts probably won him the nomination. We must have been asleep.
· Trump says Americans don’t care about his tax returns; only the press cares. Really?
· Trump points to all the jobs he has saved by pressuring corporate leaders to keep jobs at home or (most recently) cut prices on weapons. In fact, his tactics have saved precious few jobs; corporate decisions were made prior to his calls, and on the basis of cost savings, not Trump’s interventions.
Pity Trump’s transition team, which has the burden of trying to explain the lies away and address his late night tweets, which often are tirades. (He is currently in disputes with NATO, Germany, the CIA director, China, and the African American community.) The team’s nominees for cabinet-level positions have to go one step further: They are forced to square their own policy preferences with Trump’s, which on a number of occasions has not worked out. Here’s a summary of some of the contradictions:
· Waterboarding and torture: Trump favors them, but Gen. James Mattis (Defense) and Mike Pompeo (CIA) are opposed. Jeff Sessions (Attorney General) only opposes waterboarding.
· The Russian threat: Rex Tillerson (State) considers it real; Mattis sees Russia trying to divide NATO. Trump is happy that Putin likes him. And speaking of NATO:
· Trump just called NATO “obsolete,” shocking the Europeans; but Tillerson and Mattis vigorously support the US commitment to NATO.
· Russian hacking: Pompeo is convinced; Trump obviously isn’t.
· Creating a Muslim registry: Trump has said he wants one, Sessions and Tillerson are opposed.
· Building a wall at the Mexico border: Gen. John Kelly (Homeland Security) is opposed to this signature Trump idea.
· The Iran nuclear deal: Mattis says it’s imperfect, but must be honored. Trump has said he would scrap it.
Some observers suggest that these differences of opinion are a healthy sign—that Trump doesn’t want yes-men. We shall see.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.