Several recent events illustrate the phenomenon. The Post reported Tuesday:
President Trump met Tuesday morning with a group of sheriffs from the National Sheriffs Association, a group that consists of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the country. And to this sworn group of law enforcement veterans, with reporters taking notes, he again repeated a falsehood about the murder rate in America.Trump told the sheriffs, “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” He blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.”
That is flat-out false, just as it was false when Trump said it during the campaign. The murder rate, The Post says, “is almost at its lowest point, actually, according to the FBI, which gathers statistics every year from police departments around the country.”
Moreover, Trump suggested the media were the ones lying about the murder rate. He told the sheriffs that the claim that the murder rate is at an all-time high surprises people because “the press [gestures to reporters] doesn’t tell it like it is.” Actually, the FBI tells it like it is; the murder rate is low, not at an all-time high.
The pattern was seen Monday as well. Trump claimed that all kinds of terrorist attacks go unreported. The reason? Yup, the media is covering up. That had to be walked back since the press covers terrorism constantly. The hapless Sean Spicer tried to change the president’s claim to the charge that terrorist attacks are “underreported,” but even that was false.
Then there was Trump’s interview with Bill O’Reilly, who said Vladimir Putin is a “killer.” Trump responded, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” It’s hard to say precisely what he was talking about, but no, the U.S. government does not kill journalists or political opponents of the president — or barrel-bomb civilians and hit humanitarian convoys in Syria, for that matter. Again, he lies to make America seem like a third-rate thugocracy.
Aside from revealing that no one in the White House has the nerve to tell Trump when he is wrong (that’s a whole other topic), the slurs on America and the insinuation that the press conceals the country’s rottenness are without precedent. Trump’s conduct is not without explanation, however.
Like most authoritarians who want to be seen as the savior of their country, Trump needs to make the country seem in need of saving. If things are not all that bad, then he cannot deserve credit for the most phenomenal turnaround ever in history, like everybody says. And he sure cannot have the media messing up the narrative. Hence, the country is rotten and don’t believe the media that says it is not.
The reflexive denigration of America also goes to how Trump sees the country and why conservatives who enable him betray their deepest convictions. Stephen Wertheim writes:
Whereas previous presidents have taken [American exceptionalism] to be a permanent trait, and an intrinsic part of American identity, the current president-elect views it as a conditional state. A nation becomes “exceptional” by snatching up more wealth and power than others; it is a status that can be gained one minute and lost the next, and is not reserved solely for the United States. Trump thus recognizes an equality among nations that American exceptionalism denies. Small wonder, then, that he has ruled out promoting democracy abroad. As he explained, “I don’t know that we have a right to lecture.” In his view, the United States is just one player among many.
Put differently, America is not great or exceptional because of its ideals — which Trump never discusses — but because it is not “winning” enough. As Wertheim explains:
Under the rubric of Cold War exceptionalism, which cast the United States as the defender of the free world, U.S. leaders rebuilt old enemies such as Germany and Japan, lavished dollars and troops on allies, and set up multilateral institutions to ensure broad-based prosperity. All were immediate sacrifices made for speculative long-term gains distributed across the globe. Yet these were sacrifices the United States was willing to make.Such considerations are alien to Trump.
Worse than that, such considerations are evidence we are suckers and losers. (Again, his perception that we are “losing” is based on fake facts and a fundamental misunderstanding of economics and foreign policy.)
To recap, then, America is cruddy; do not believe the press; and America is as lacking in principles, ideals and intrinsic goodness as Trump is. Republicans who decried President Barack Obama (for sounding just a tad relativistic in his assessment of America) now ignore, rationalize and defend Trump’s delusions and assessment of the country. It is disheartening, to say the least.
If Republicans are not going to defend the “city upon a hill,” debunk Trump and reaffirm their historic principles, they should be replaced by a party that will speak the truth, defend American ideals and conduct foreign policy worthy of a great and good country.