Since President Trump’s inauguration, The Post’s fact-checkers have tracked more than 7,600 lies from the president. He’s repeated some of them so frequently that they had to create a whole new Pinocchio category — the “Bottomless Pinocchio” — to do justice to his refusal to relinquish provable falsehoods. Trump’s ability to maintain his parallel universe in which he is responsible for nothing and yet has achieved everything now defines his presidency. Only in that universe is the Islamic State vanquished, climate change a hoax and a wall needed to stop a horde of immigrants.
Trump is getting worse and more dishonest with time. Glenn Kessler writes:
The fusillade of tweets was the start of a year of unprecedented deception during which Trump became increasingly unmoored from the truth. When 2018 began, the president had made 1,989 false and misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database, which tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. By the end of the year, Trump had accumulated more than 7,600 untruths during his presidency — averaging more than 15 erroneous claims a day during 2018, almost triple the rate from the year before.
The New York Times tries to categorize his lies, which include “repeating and inflating falsehoods, shifting his statements, embellishing or omitting details and offering misleading attacks.”
Trump’s lies are not inconsequential. They are a necessary foundation for his political survival (in an investigation that has indicted more than 30 people, he still screams “Witch hunt!”) and for an agenda that is based on ignorance and deception. And because of the centrality of lying to his survival and agenda, Republicans who continue to support him increasingly must live alongside him in his alternative universe. (When Republicans do refuse to accept his lies, they inevitably reject his policy positions, as they did when he denied Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.) Let’s look at a few examples.
Trump’s immediate pullout from Syria despite the unanimous opposition of his military commanders makes sense only if one accepts the lie that the Islamic State has been defeated. If not, he’s not merely betraying the Kurds and aiding his Russian pals but also endangering the United States and its closest allies. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said as much on CNN on Sunday:
GRAHAM: As to Syria, there are three things important for this country. Number one, make sure that ISIS never comes back in Syria. That’s why we need to keep some of our troops there. They’re inside the 10-yard line in defeating ISIS. But we’re not there yet. If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered.
BASH: How are you going to convince President Trump of that?
GRAHAM: I’m going to talk to him at lunch. He has talked to General Dunford. I got a call from General Dunford. The president is reconsidering how we do this. He’s frustrated. I get it. People should pay more. They should fight more. But we’re not the policemen of the world here. We’re fighting a war against ISIS. They’re still not defeated in Syria. I’m asking the president to make sure that we have troops there to protect us. Don’t outsource our national security to some foreign power. If we leave now, the Kurds will get in a fight with Turkey. They could get slaughtered. Who would help you in the future? And if we leave now, there will be a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut in terms of supplying weapons against Israel.
In other words, Graham has to try pleading with Trump to accept reality; otherwise, Trump’s dangerous policy based on his uninformed or intentionally false assertions will harm our national security. That’s the view of a Trump defender.
Likewise, on Syria, retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal explained on ABC’s “This Week”: “Iran has increased influence across the region now. If you pull American influence out, you’re likely to have greater instability. And, of course, it will be much more difficult for the United States to try to push events in any direction. ... I don’t believe ISIS is defeated.” As for the decision prompting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s resignation, McChrystal said: “If we have someone who is as selfless and as committed as Jim Mattis resigns his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, Okay, why did he do it?”
Likewise, Trump’s holiday from reality has caused a government shutdown. That move is based on two lies — first, that a wall is a security benefit, and second, that we have an immigration crisis. As to the latter, Republican Linda Chavez correctly noted on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Well, you know what the real problem is? Is that there is a big lie going on. We are not in the middle of an immigration crisis in the United States. In the year 2000, 1.6 million people were apprehended trying to get into the United States.” She continued: “In fiscal year 2017, it was about 300,000. Now it did tick up in 2018, and there has been a shift. We are no longer seeing single men coming to work in the United States. We’re seeing families who are fleeing violence in their countries. We do need to do something about the asylum system.” (Of course a wall won’t solve the asylum problem because refugees will keep presenting themselves, just as they do now.)
As for the wall, Trump’s reason for shutting down the government, even his departing Chief of Staff John Kelly lets on, is phony. He confessed, “To be honest, it’s not a wall.” (It would have been nice if Kelly had admitted as such before the government shut down.) He adds, "The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
So we are having a shutdown over a non-solution the president doesn’t even want to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. That’s the tower of lies one has to accept to defend Trump’s actions.
Then there is climate change, a problem so serious and far-reaching that the latest National Climate Assessment, issued by his own administration, provided no comfort to climate-change deniers and minimizers. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities," it stated. "The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur. Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond.”
Most Americans now accept these indisputable facts. But Trump says he doesn’t believe in climate change, which is equivalent to saying he doesn’t believe in gravity or doesn’t believe that smoking causes cancer. He does not demonstrate the intellectual capacity of a mature adult, let alone a world leader — or he doesn’t want to.
In sum, it’s worth repeating how dangerous Trump’s lies are and how they translate to counterproductive and stupid decisions once accepted. That elected Republicans, Fox News entertainers and even “respectable” conservative outlets echo Trump’s lies does not mean Trump isn’t lying; it means the right has fallen into a modern Dark Ages in which superstition, ignorance and cultism replace rationality.
When the GOP decides it has had enough of justifying Trump’s lies and the ridiculous policy actions that flow from his untruths, it can rejoin the debate on critical policy issues; for now, Democrats, independents and assorted political orphans — including the community of heretical, reality-based Republicans (many of whom are retiring, for good reason) — must address the real world.