The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Put aside the law for a moment. Trump’s lying is just plain wrong.

President Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington in April. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as unexceptional a conservative lawmaker as you will find and a generally pro-Trump voice, said something extraordinary on Sunday. Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether President Trump’s lying wasn’t a problem, Blunt served up a tutorial in moral relativism and postmodern thought:

JAKE TAPPER: Does it bother you — does it bother you when President Trump is not honest? Does it bother you when he says things that are clear, demonstrable falsehoods to the American people?
BLUNT: You know, he communicates differently than I do or than almost anybody else ever has.
I will tell you, though, I was in Missouri all week. I did news conferences in 10 different cities all over the state. I saw virtually every TV camera in the state during that — those 10 cities. …
And President Trump’s part of that. But I think people are much more concerned about the economy and job preparation. And there are plenty of chances for every reporter to ask a question about President Trump. Nobody did. And …
TAPPER: Well, I will make up for it. … Let me ask you this.
Does it matter if the president of the United States lies to the American people? The majority of the American people do not find him honest and trustworthy. That is a problem.
Doesn’t that get in the way of the agenda? And, as an American, wouldn’t you prefer to have a president who you don’t have to worry that what he says is just demonstrably false, such as when he says two of the hostages that were taken were taken — that are in North Korea were taken under [President Barack] Obama, when two of the three were taken while he was president?
BLUNT: Well, you know, that Trump persona has not changed since the campaign.
TAPPER: Does it bother you, though?
BLUNT: It would bother me less if we weren’t getting things done.
What the regulators are doing, I think the tax package, better than I would have expected. I think the foreign policy, the president was left with lots of problems. We had about eight years where we acted like the United States of America was basically any other country in the world. And a lot of things got off track during that eight years.
I think the president stepped in, in a way that has helped that pretty demonstrably. Korea, what may happen in the next few days with Iran, all those are more important than whether the president remembers when hostages were taken in Korea. The important thing there is to get hostages out of Korea.
TAPPER: I agree with you.
But the president — I mean, the Washington Post fact-checker has identified more than 3,000 lies that he’s told since he has become president of the United States. They say he is taking — making up to nine false statements a day.
When President [Bill] Clinton lied to the American people, a lot of Republicans got very upset about it. Democrats said, well, the country is doing great, let’s ignore the fact that he’s lying.
Isn’t there are a more important issue here? Yes, it is great that the economy is doing better. And I understand what you are talking about in terms of his accomplishments and the deregulatory agenda that you like.
BLUNT: Mm-hmm.
TAPPER: But isn’t it important for a president of the United States to tell the voters the truth? Isn’t there something that undermines democracy when a president lies so often?

Getting no answer, Tapper warily concluded: “Well, let the record reflect that I do think it is important whether or not a president tells people the truth. And I’m guessing that, during the President Obama administration, you might have some thoughts on that too.” In short, Blunt — like most Republicans — no longer puts a premium on truth; if Republicans get their tax cut, Trump can lie all he wants. Forget the legalities. Forget accountability or transparency. The tribal premium on loyalty has obliterated the quaint idea — actually, the idea that provides the foundation for democracy — that voters deserve to know the facts and to hold politicians accountable. But Blunt, like so many other Republicans, can no longer think in such straightforward terms like: Is lying wrong? Does lying corrode our democracy?

While we are talking about right and wrong, let’s consider the longtime legal residents here from Central America and Haiti. The Post reported, “50,000 Hondurans who have been allowed to live and work in the United States since 1999 will have 20 months to leave the country or face deportation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Friday, the latest in a series of DHS measures aimed at tightening U.S. immigration controls.” They join approximately “200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, 9,000 Nepalese, 2,500 Nicaraguans, and 1,000 Sudanese” who are also being booted out.

Yes, these were “temporary” refugees, but they are here legally, have worked and paid taxes, raised families and become part of their communities. In many instances, their children were born here and therefore are American citizens. Trump may have every right to end their status, but in what universe is this the decent, humane thing to do? We have a GOP administration and party that seems totally unconcerned with “family values” and the perception that they are inflicting needless suffering on innocents. They are in a word, cruel. (With 3.9 percent unemployment, no one can seriously doubt that these immigrants, who have been here for years, are “stealing jobs” from anyone.) Take away the talking points and the legalese; Trump is pursuing a policy to rid the United States of as many brown and black people as he can.

America is great not because it is rich or powerful, but because it is humane, fair, inclusive democratic and principled. It is far from perfect, but presidents of both parties have subscribed to those ideals and taken pains to convince voters that they are acting in ways consistent with those virtues.

After 18 months of Trump, our government is less humane, less protective of democratic norms and less honest — by a lot. We should not let the Trumpkins’ unabashed descent into moral sloth become commonplace or acceptable. The midterms should not be principally about impeachment or Russia or any other policy item. Rather, the American people would do well to look at the Republicans and ask themselves whether they want to be led by those who constantly disdain kindness and honesty. Is this the America they really want?