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Horowitz: President Trump’s Falsehoods Mount Up

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

 

Donald Trump

Apparently undaunted by the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that he is dishonest, President Trump continues to utter falsehood after falsehood- 8158 all together since the beginning of his time in office, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker.  There were 30 false or misleading claims in last week’s State of the Union Address alone and an average of more than 15 false claims a day in 2018.  As his presidency proceeds, Trump’s blatant attempt to create an alternative reality, no matter how self-defeating, is only accelerating.  He is becoming “increasingly unmoored from the truth,” writes Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s chief fact checker. 

In past administrations, when the president said something that turned out to be untrue, corrections were often issued by staff members.  In the Trump Administration, officials ranging from the vice-president to cabinet members to communications staffers twist themselves into pretzels and undermine their own credibility, attempting to justify or explain away the president’s constant falsehoods.  One recent example was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoing the president and insisting there was there was no family separation policy at the border, when there plainly was and continues to be. In fact, it's spelled out in Administration documents.

Perhaps the most famous justification of the Trump Administration’s casual relationship with the truth was Kellyanne Conway’s embarrassing attempt to defend Sean Spicer’s false claims made at the behest of the president about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.”

In an interview with Vox, Robert Dallek, a noted presidential biographer, commented on the unprecedented nature of Trump’s untruthfulness and its corrosive consequences. “Well, our system depends upon something like a consensus, something like majority rule. But now we have a president who outright lies about ... everything. He lies about the number of votes he received, about the size of his inauguration crowd, about his own achievements, about Muslims cheering in the streets after 9/11, and so on. He lies about basic observable facts. I think the cumulative effect of all this lying is to make people deeply cynical about our entire system, and that’s very corrupting.”

While Dallek’s pessimistic view of the impact of Trump’s dishonesty is well-founded, the good news is that most Americans see through the lies and still believe it is essential to establish commonly held truths.  Six -out-of-10 Americans say that it is very important that people agree on basic facts, even if they disagree on policies and this opinion cuts across party lines, according to a Pew Research Center Poll.. People recognize that our current politics and government fall far short of living up to this value. Only 1-in-3 voters say that ‘people agreeing on basic facts, even if they disagree on politics’ describes this country well today. 

On this matter, we still stand with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous observation; “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,”.   Americans intuitively recognize that without an agreement on the basic facts of any particular issue or situation, reasoned and civil debate with the goal of achieving principled compromise, and common ground that is at the core of healthy political discourse becomes difficult to impossible.

One unintended consequence of President Trump’s blatant disregard for the truth, maybe the restoration of facts, reason, reason, and science to the center of our political debates.  The failures of the Trump presidency to date provide an instructive case study for what happens when there is a concerted effort to make truth disappear. Let’s hope future presidents are taking careful notes.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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