Speaking to the U.S. Central Command on Monday, President Trump went off his prepared remarks to make a truly stunning claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist attacks.
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening,” he said to the assembled military leaders. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
Press secretary Sean Spicer first promised to provide a list of such unreported attacks — which would be hard since that’s not what the media do. Later, as he often does, Spicer changed the president’s words and meaning to make him sound less unhinged. “We’ll provide a list later. There’s several instances. … There’s a lot of instances that have occurred where I don’t think that they’ve gotten the coverage it’s deserved.” Not covering attacks “enough” doesn’t pass the smell test either to anyone who watches cable TV news. But it arguably sounds less insane than claiming — as Trump did before a military audience — that the media are actively conspiring to deceive Americans. When he later did provide a list of nearly 80 attacks he thought were under-reported, Spicer included such incidents as the Charlie Hebdo massacre (Paris, January 2015), the Nice, France, truck attack on Bastille Day, and the multi-site Paris attacks that included the Bataclan theater — all of which received nonstop coverage. The list even included the San Bernardino massacre (although he misspelled the name of the California city), an event that was covered around the clock for days on end.
Trump’s unprecedented degree of out-and-out lying to the American people about things large (a conspiracy to cover up terrorist attacks) and small (crowd size) — especially stated in the presence of the intelligence community (as he did at CIA headquarters the day after his disappointing inauguration turnout) and the military — raises the legitimate concern that we cannot rely on the president’s words or assume his perceptions are accurate. The military and intelligence officers listening to his rants know he babbles nonsense. They surely are entitled to doubt the mental stability and trustworthiness of the commander in chief.
Consider what else Trump might think is true: Our borders are open. Mexico will pay us back for the wall. Tariffs will hurt China, not the American consumer. The Russian government is no worse than the United States when it comes to human rights and international conduct. In other words, much of Trump’s world view — we’re losing, our allies are stealing us blind — and the policies he pursues are based on nothing but his imagination and urban myths fanned by right-wing talk radio. Far too many Republicans have played along, reticent to call out his reverence for Russian President Vladimir Putin, silent when his plan for a wall on our Southern border started a war of words with Mexico and utterly unwilling to confront him on the noxious travel ban.
Unfortunately, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), once seen as the successor to foreign policy leaders such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), plays to the base, repudiating a values-based foreign policy. In a speech Monday, Cotton declined to address Trump’s odious comparison of the United States to Russia and instead showed solidarity with those who “don’t think our job is to make the world safe for democracy, but rather to make the world safe for American democracy.” He seems as confused as Trump insofar as he imagines our democracy can survive without others. This is precisely the sort of enabling and normalizing of Trump that perpetuates the president’s conduct.
There are some signs, however, that Trump’s erratic and unhinged behavior has alarmed fellow Republicans. The Hill reports, “Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bipartisan resolution on Monday reaffirming a strong commitment to the United States-Australia alliance relationship.'” Multiple Republicans rebuked Trump’s suggestion that our government has “killers” just like Russia does. Grudgingly at first, Republicans have taken up the investigation into the Trump campaign ties to Russia.
More is needed however from Republicans, Cabinet officials, Democrats, conservatives outside government and the public. Trump’s dangerous delusions need to be addressed head on — in part to determine if he is intentionally stoking fear or if he is intellectually and emotionally unfit.