A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Trump lies because he can, but with the numbers stacking up, few seem to care

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday of this week USA Today, which fancies itself a newspaper, published an op-ed piece from the president of the United States of America, one Donald J. Trump, in which he declared, among other things, that he had kept his campaign promises regarding health care, maintaining “that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums.’’

That claim was, of course, a lie. The Department of Justice has, in fact, under Trump’s leadership, sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with preexisting conditions.

It was one of a multitude of misleading, false and bogus statements made in his statement that staggered even those well aware of the president’s unfamiliarity with the truth. Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column for The Washington Post, reported that “almost every sentence (in the essay) contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.’’

On that same day, El Presidente appeared at one of those slimy campaign rallies he occasionally holds, this time in Council Bluffs, IA, and lied about funding for the wall he continues to promote on the southern border with Mexico. Trump insisted that he has begun construction – in fact only some wire fencing has gone up – and that he has obtained $4.8 billion for the projects – inflating that sum by $1.6 billion.

And finally on Wednesday, the president charged, without a molecule of evidence, that those actively opposing Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court were “phony protestors who got paid.’’ Actually, of course, many of those involved in the anti-Kavanaugh campaign were women who had been sexually abused or harassed who found their voices and made their objections known without compensation.

All in all it was a fairly typical Trump week. You could tell he was lying because his mouth was moving, as the saying goes. As usual, the whoppers came fast and furious without the slightest hint of shame. This is the level to which the Office of the President of the United States of America has fallen. And by all indications a tad upwards of 40 percent of the population is eating it up, cheering on every despicable and untrustworthy claim he utters, hooting and hollering like rubes at a sideshow.

You believe this man at your peril.

The numbers are stunning. As of Sept. 12, according to the aforementioned Kessler of The Washington Post, Trump made 5,001 false or misleading claims during his first 601 days in office, an average of 8.3 whoppers a day. The total has jumped since then. Legend has it that Washington could not tell a lie. Reality has it that Trump can’t tell the truth.

The fact of the matter is the president, who has exhibited little if any knowledge about the affairs of the day, who apparently reads as much as a two-year-old and pays only cursory attention to the charts and graphs his aides develop in hopes of letting the simplest matters sink in, just makes stuff up as he plods merrily along. Why offer the voting public facts when lies, both large and small, do a much better job promoting the mush you’re trying to sell?

It’s amazing really. But what’s even more amazing is that so few people seem to care that their president is lying to their faces. There’s the “every politician does it” defense, which fails to factor in the extent of Trump’s balderdash, making other officeholders look like Sir Thomas More in comparison. And there are the jamokes who think they’re in on the joke the president is pulling on the nation, giggling the entire time he’s reaching around to pick their pockets.

The question remains regarding what motivates the president to lie as frequently as most people exhale. A few psychologists and others in the mental health field have opined that Trump is seriously mentally ill and may not be able to tell truth from fiction.

Writing in Psychology Today last year – Trump’s predilection for falsehoods was already apparent his first months in office – Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo stated, “Through our observations, we can see Trump as embodying an unconstrained present hedonist—living only in the present moment and saying whatever it takes to pump up his ego and assuage his inherent low self-esteem, without thought of past reality or potentially devastating future consequences. He is the poster boy for a time perspective that is totally unbalanced. Unfortunately, given his personality type, there is little hope of reversal or any meaningful improvement.’’

And there are those who note the president, at age 72, is simply beginning to lose it.

Be that as it may, Occam’s Razor produces a much simpler explanation – Trump lies because he can.

The great 18th Century Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift is credited with saying, “Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it.’’ Trump is relying on voters listening to him make outrageously false claims who then move on before the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, circulates to correct the record.

Evidence that Trump is intentionally and tactically lying to the American public stems from his tendency to repeat lies at his campaign rallies that had already been proved to be false. He consistently cites the same untrue facts and statistics in his presentations, especially in regard to his priorities like trade and immigration. The claims are easily dismissed. Nevertheless, he persists.

In Iowa, for instance, the president once again said, “The new platform of the Democrat Party is to abolish ICE,” referring to the often-criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with administrating laws along the border. It is a claim he has made consistently. Yet there is nothing in the Democratic Party platform about abolishment, it is a minority position within the party and is vocally opposed by the party’s congressional leadership.

But it draws a reaction from his ravenous, sorely aggrieved supporters, which is all that Trump desires.

It helps, of course, that the man has no principles, enabling him to reel off fictions quicker than Helio Castroneves zooming down an Indy 500 straightaway.

The sad thing is so many individuals are willing to embrace his obvious lies for their own political purposes, including members of the religious community. Jerry Falwell, a prominent evangelical Christian and president of Liberty University, recently described Trump to The Guardian as a “good, moral person.’’ Others have followed suit.

That’s almost as big a whopper as the president himself tells.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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