Were Trump to continue this trend, he’d have to up his falsehood rate to more than 40 per day for all of 2020 — a tough challenge even in an election year. But now the president has a way around facts: beliefs.
In an interview with Fox News, Trump-friendly host Laura Ingraham asked the president what attacks Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani had been planning against U.S. citizens and facilities. “I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” Trump said.
Yes, he “believes.”
Not surprisingly, The Post reported Friday that there was only “vague” intelligence about an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and nothing to suggest threats against multiple embassies. No warnings were issued to staff at the embassy in Iraq or any other unnamed embassies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t even keep the administration’s story straight: Briefing the media on Friday, he initially claimed that there was information about “attacks on U.S. embassies, period, full stop.” After a follow-up question he changed the targets to “American embassies, military bases, American facilities throughout the region.”
Neither of the White House’s emissaries to this week’s Sunday talk shows, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, was able to scrounge up any further defense for the president’s belief. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” O’Brien first detailed troop movements to protect the embassy in Baghdad. When asked about the other embassies, though, he suddenly clammed up: “I’m not going to get into the details of those and give our playbook out to the other side.” On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Esper conducted a similar dodge with host Jake Tapper:
ESPER: Well, there was evidence — there was evidence that part of the attack would be against the United States Embassy.TAPPER: In Baghdad?ESPER: In Baghdad.TAPPER: But what about the four embassies?ESPER: I’m not going to discuss intelligence.
So it’s clear the president’s belief is hot air. But, as “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd noted later in the program, “you can’t fact-check a belief.” Where most of us mere mortals would have to marshal facts to justify a decision, Trump has realized another hidden power of being president — or, more accurately, being president with a supine party that backs every action and a massive media apparatus that props up every word. When you have those two assets, you don’t need facts. You don’t even need claims masquerading as facts. Your belief is enough.
Todd referred to the belief framing as “smart” — which it is, if you follow politics more for rhetorical wins and losses and less for real-world outcomes. If you focus on the latter, Trump’s new approach seems anything but smart. After all, facts care not for anyone’s beliefs, even a president’s. And in the gap between the two lies dangerous consequences.