Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Speech could have been titled ‘How to be dishonest, by Donald J. Trump’

REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Donald Trump speaking at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday.

There is mere accuracy, in which you don’t say things that are false. There is minimal honesty, where you make a case based on true statements but ignore all evidence (however true) that runs contrary to the argument you are making. And there is the gold standard: intellectual honesty, where you make an honest case based on accurate facts but you also acknowledge contrary facts that might lead reasonable people to disagree with your conclusion and explain why you believe your conclusion is nonetheless the best one available. And then there is intellectual honesty-plus, where after you have made your case you actually listen with open mind to someone who disagrees and you consider the possibility that they will persuade you to move in their direction.

That last standard is pretty high, and is one to which I aspire but probably often fail to achieve.

Trump’s Monday afternoon speech — in Youngstown, Ohio, on his plan to defeat ISIS — failed on all four levels. He told lies. When he said some things that were arguably true, he asserted them as if they were proven facts beyond dispute. He never acknowledged – as he never acknowledges – contrary facts or arguments. And he dismisses all who disagree with him as idiots, dupes, cowards, liars, fools and, quite possibly, traitors to the now ungreat country that “only I” can “make great again.”

A summary of his speech would be roughly this: History began on the day Barack Obama took office. (Trump never mentioned President George W. Bush, or any other previous president.) Things in the Mideast were pretty much sweetness and light with everything headed in the right direction on the day Obama took office. Since then, everything has gone to hell.

Trump has some ideas (including many things that the United States is already doing or has done but perhaps, I don’t know, some people say so, will be new and improved when Trump does them) to get things headed in the right direction again. There was some other stuff about “extreme vetting” that will keep terrorists from emigrating to the U.S. homeland.

Trump’s biggest lie

Trump commits various levels of dishonesty all the time, but I have a particular hang-up about what I consider to be Trump’s biggest lie, which is the lie that he clearly and presciently opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq from the beginning. He said it again yesterday, and dwelt on it for a while, citing “evidence” to back it up — although the evidence did not back it up, because the evidence itself is a lie. And, of course (speaking of intellectual honesty) he left out the clearest evidence that he did not oppose the Iraq war from the beginning.

Here’s what Trump said yesterday (relying on his campaign website for his remarks as prepared for delivery, although they are pretty reliable since this was one of those occasional speeches he read off a teleprompter):

I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning – a major difference between me and my opponent.

Though I was a private citizen, whose personal opinions on such matters was not sought, I nonetheless publicly expressed my private doubts about the invasion. Three months before the invasion I said, in an interview with Neil Cavuto, to whom I offer my best wishes for a speedy recovery, that “perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet,” and that “the economy is a much bigger problem.”

Trump is very committed to this falsehood, which he repeats often.

No example before the war

First note that there is no example of Trump saying, before the war started with the “shock and awe” bombing attack on March 20, 2003, that Trump opposed the war. In none of the examples he offers does he say anything remotely close to ”I’m against this war” or “If I was president, I wouldn’t start a war with Iraq” or “Our country is making a big mistake by attacking Iraq” or “I don’t believe Saddam is hiding any Weapons of Mass Destruction” or, what would have been my favorite, “Now that Saddam has allowed the U.N. weapons inspectors back in and seems to be giving prompt unfettered access to all suspected sites, why don’t we hold off and see what they find before deciding whether to start a war that will sure kill a lot of people, including probably U.S. troops, and might further destabilize the whole unstable region.”

He didn’t say any of those things. He takes a few words out of context that don’t say it, that maybe imply it, out, and leaves out the surrounding words that make clear the “against the war from the beginning” claim is rubbish, rot, a lie.

And this from a candidate who likes to tag his opponents with nicknames like “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.”

If you are at all skeptical that I’m exaggerating how much Trump is lying, you should know that in his speech he left out this statement, which he made, in a radio interview in September of 2002, during the run-up to the war, when he was directly asked by host Howard Stern whether he favored invading Iraq:

Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.

The only other prewar interview that has surfaced was the one he mentioned yesterday, the Jan. 28, 2003, interview with Neil Cavuto. Even the little bit that he quotes ““perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet,” is hardly a position, what with the “perhaps” and the “yet.”

Back-and-forthing with Neil Cavuto

If you read it in full context, it’s laughably unclear whether he favors or opposes the war. His back-and-forthing, while reasonable for someone who can’t make up his mind, is hilarious in light of Trump’s claims that he clearly opposed the war from the beginning.

At the time, in January of 2003, the Cavuto-Trump interview was a curtain raiser for Bush’s State of the Union Address, which was to occur later that night. Cavuto asks Trump what he expects and Trump brilliantly says he expects to hear “a lot of talk about Iraq and the problems,” and the economy. He urges Bush to make a decision on Iraq:

“Either you attack or you don’t attack,” Trump bravely asserts, but offers no opinion on which Bush should do.

Cavuto: If you had to sort of breakdown for the president, if you were advising him, how much time do you commit to Iraq versus how much time you commit to the economy, what would you say?

Trump: Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing, we’re going in, we’re not going in, the — you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur. He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk. We have to — you know, it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it. When I watch Dan Rather explaining how we are going to be attacking, where we’re going to attack, what routes we’re taking, what kind of planes we’re using, how to stop them, how to stop us, it is a little bit disconcerting. I’ve never seen this, where newscasters are telling you how — telling the enemy how we’re going about it, we have just found out this and that. It is ridiculous.

Cavuto: Well, that’s the problem right there.

Trump: Either you attack or you don’t attack.

Cavuto: The problem there, Donald, is you’re watching Dan Rather. Maybe you should just be watching Fox.

Trump: Well, no, I watch Dan Rather, but not necessarily fondly. But I happened to see it the other night. And I must tell you it was rather amazing as they were explaining the different — I don’t know if it is fact or if it is fiction, but the concept of a newscaster talking about the routes is — just seems ridiculous. So the point is either you do it or you don’t do it, or you — but I just — or if you don’t do it, just don’t talk about it. When you do it, you start talking about it.

Cavuto: So you’re saying the leash on this is getting kind of short here, that the president has got to do something presumably sooner rather than later and stringing this along could ultimately hurt us.

Trump: Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps shouldn’t be doing it yet and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know. He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s — I think he’s doing a very good job. But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned.”

From all of that, for his big speech yesterday, the only phrases that Trump could find to back up his claim that he was clearly opposed to the war from the beginning was:

“perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet,” and “the economy is a much bigger problem.”

‘Very early in the conflict’

OK, last chapter, from yesterday’s speech, the final evidence Trump offers that he was against the war from the beginning, goes like this:

In August of 2004, very early in the conflict, I made a detailed statement to Esquire magazine. Here is the quote in full:

“Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the country? C’mon. Two minutes after we leave, there’s going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he’ll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn’t have.

“What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who’ve been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing.”

August of 2004 was not “very early in the conflict.” It is a year and a half after the war started. Saddam has been captured and is on trial. No WMD have been found and never will be. A Sunni-Shia civil war is under way. (Does the name  Muqtada al-Sadr ring a bell?) The U.S. have not been greeted with candy and flowers by grateful Iraqis. U.S. soldiers are still getting killed in a war that has now been proven to have been based on a falsehood.

In a Gallup Poll that month, 48 percent of Americans say it was a mistake to have invaded Iraq, compared to 50 who say it was not a mistake. Soon the majority will pass to the other side of the question and never return.

August of 2004 is way, way too late to claim that you were against the war from the beginning, if it’s the first time you have said you are against the war. And, to be very tough on Trump, who loves toughness, he never actually said in that 2004 interview that the war was a mistake. He said: “I would never have handled it that way,” which might mean a number of things.

Facts matter

Maybe I’ve gone over the edge. I just can’t bring myself to let go of some vestige of the old gag that facts matter, and honesty is the best policy (or at least one of the two or three best policies, circumstances depending) and that if you tell a whopping huge lie about an important matter, and get caught, and just keep asserting that the false is the truth, people will just stop listening to you.

Trump says:

 I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning – a major difference between me and my opponent.

Yes, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war. It was a terrible mistake and it took her way too long to call it a mistake.

But Clinton is not attempting to claim that she voted against authorizing the war. She is either too honest or too smart or believes that we are too smart to believe her when we can look up how she voted. I hope she learned the right lesson from that vote. I fear not.

But Trump believes that he can just claim to have been against the war from the beginning, and apparently does not understand that we can look up what he said at the time. Or else he thinks we won’t care how much he lies. If he’s right, welcome to the post-fact, post-truth Book of Life, Trumpian edition.

This is not the first time I have written about this. I will try to restrain myself from writing this whole thing over again every time he repeats his favorite lie. Maybe I can just link back to this version, with a shorter rant.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2016 - 10:27 am.

    Trump’s Ability to Lie with Complete Impunity

    is the direct result of “conservative” talk radio and Fox (or more appropriately “weasel”) news,…

    (because Foxes are far too open and above board to describe what the denizens of Murdoch’s/Aile’s media mouthpiece have been up to),…

    which have spent the past few decades absolutely filling the hearts and minds and souls of their devotés with lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations,…

    all the while cautioning them that they should never listen to or watch any OTHER media sources,…

    because ONLY in “conservative” media outlets will they hear the truth,…

    and everyone ELSE, i.e. the MSM are lying to them.

    Added to that festering boil, is the slavish devotion of the MSM not to any semblance of truth and accuracy,…

    but more and more to news and information as a source of PROFIT,…

    which has meant the MSM has fallen into the habit of leaving “conservative” lies unchallenged,…

    lest they anger any potential viewers,…

    and allowed the “conservative” media to call the tune when it comes to subjects being covered.

    If a completely dishonest and provably false “scandal” is being splashed all across “conservative” media,…

    it will, in short order be featured in the MSM as well,…

    not to point out that it IS dishonest and provably false,…

    but generally more along the lines of “unanswered questions still remain,…”

    which the MSM takes to be an even-handed approach,…

    but which does nothing more nor less than imply that when those questions ARE answered,…

    they will reveal deep, deplorable, secrets, which reveal the person involved to be far too despicable to ever be allowed to hold a position of responsibility.

    What EVER happened to the day when those “questions” would only become news if, and only if, they WERE answered by reputable, on the record sources?

    Of course such “unanswered questions” statements are ONLY aimed at liberals.

    Never once have I heard such a statements larded with evil implications aimed at Chris Christie in regards to his bridgegate and other scandals, nor at Donald Trump for his business practices and management acumen.

    When the MSM is playing for dollars rather than providing verifiable accuracy and responsibly making sure the public knows what it needs to know,…

    a charlatan and huckster like Trump can and may very well cruise into the White House despite his demonstrable dishonesty, short temper, vindictive tendency to seek to punish those who anger him, and pathetically bad business acumen,…

    because the MSM has been far too willing to play along and leave hanging in the air, without challenge, an image of Hillary Clinton that’s a perfect doppelganger for the image the “conservative” media has been so anxious to create:

    someone about whom there are so many “unanswered questions” that she can’t possibly be trusted.

    Even MPR/NPR is now playing the same game as often as not.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/16/2016 - 10:52 am.

    More Than a Rant

    Eric, you make “timely” points here, but do they really matter? In other words, “What difference does it make?” Everyone knows by now that Trump is chronologically challenged.

    The interesting point of discussion on this well-worn subject might better be: “We should have kept the oil,” and the premise based on that bit of conjecture regarding the rise of ISIS. That was Trump’s provocative thesis of consequences, to me at least–one much easier to extend here.

  3. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 08/16/2016 - 11:23 am.


    Thanks, Eric, for again writing what needs to be written again & again. I can’t imagine how frustrating and difficult it is to be a journalist/writer covering this demagogue. Yes. Please keep reminding us what he is and what he says. We may tire of his lying, but we need to be reminded of it daily. Yes, I believe he will lose the election. I also believe that his maliciousness and lying will not stop when he’s declared a Loser. He will up the ante, along with his “poorly-educated” minions and launch more and more vicious attacks designed to obstruct and destroy the Clinton Administration. The bullying will go on. The lies will continue. So, again, thanks, Eric. Many of us appreciate your diligence!

  4. Submitted by kevin terrell on 08/16/2016 - 11:30 am.

    I look forward to…

    your equally accurate assessment of Hillary’s lies, including her recent “short circuit”.

    I think an interesting project for you, Eric, would be to assess the degree to which out and out lies have increased, decreased or stayed the same on matters of substantive policy matters in presidential elections. And do so from all sides of the table.

    Maybe crowdsource that project as a fun, informative and engaging community event for Minnpost, with citizens from all sides of the political spectrum.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/16/2016 - 12:35 pm.


    I am so glad you received you daily talking points memo from the DNC.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/16/2016 - 01:13 pm.

    We need to work from common sense

    The “terrorist” claims are way out of bounds vs reality. The amount of fear the politicians generate with the word “terrorist” vs the probability of it ever happening to you is way out of bounds. Of course the US is rightfully vetting people coming into this country. There isn’t a perfect system for vetting. How do you vet people who radicalize after they are here? Some have been here for a lifetime. Some have served honorably in the US military.

    The fiction peddlers at FOX do far more harm to the country than good as their use of fear is used to boost their ratings. Some Americans are just bent on causing violence because that is their nature. Politicians use the fear factor to increase gun sales because many are puppets of the NRA and also to plump up their campaign coffers. Will there be another “terrorist” attack? Of course there will be. Will there be another car crash? Of course there will be. Will there be another plane crash? Of course there will be. America needs to settle down, be vigilant, and work from common sense, not the fear factor.

    I’m not a statistician, but if all the numbers could be put together I believe the results would show overwhelmingly that we have a much, much greater probability of being killed in a car accident or an airplane crash than by a “terrorist” attack. Accepting that thought, we don’t panic and want all cars taken off the roads or airplanes grounded. Why? Because it isn’t common sense to do that. Use the word “terrorist” and Trump panics. He wants to kick all Muslims out of the country and prevent them from ever coming into the country. Why can’t this be done? Because it isn’t common sense to do that.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/16/2016 - 01:54 pm.


      About 30,000 deaths a year in the U.S. in car crashes; 50 from terrorism (both domestic and foreign).
      That’s a ratio of 600 to 1. The greatest rick in flying is driving to the airport.
      The number of deaths from lightening strikes is about 50/yr; the same as terrorism.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/16/2016 - 10:33 pm.

      Don’t touch that remote!

      “Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism”

      A little dated, but nothing has really changed since it was published four years ago. Still my favorite (statistical) take on the imminent death by terrorist fantasy.

      As always, when they have nothing real to run on, Republicans drag out whatever they think might be the most effective scare card in the deck in hopes of convincing enough people Freddy Kruger’s clone is on the loose, headed for their garage, their back door, their 3:00 a.m. bedroom and only THEY can stop the blade from being plunged into their necks while they dream of winning the lottery and paying off their kid’s college debt.

      “Oh happy day,” the choir is singing in their smiling dream and then, all of a sudden, there’s Hillary, tearing off her goalie mask, laughing manically and . . . You know.

      “Paid for by Swift Truth Veterans for October and we approve this message.”

      Meanwhile, 400,000 Americans are killed each year by American cigarette manufacturers (one 9/11 every three days) whose headquarters and poison fatories are located in solidly red states where voters are down with Trump all the way and totally on fire about all the stinking illegal (terrorist) aliens that are oozing over the walless borders of our exceptional nation, harvesting tobacco, cleaning (Trump) hotel toilets and saving their illegally-gotten money to buy semi-automatic “long guns” at Winston-Salem gun shows so they can kill us, as Trump puts it, “Like never before.”

      “Oh happy day,” the choir kept singing . . .

      “I’m talking about EXTREME vetting,” the Republican nominee said.

      “Extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme vetting,” he repeated, because, I guess, that’s what you have to do in the deeper red base states because a lot of those folk don’t quite get it if you only say it once.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 08/16/2016 - 01:20 pm.

    Keep the pressure on Eric…

    So Trump is against war huh ? Ya right ! except for with Russia, China, North Korea, and anyone else who will disagree with his egotistical, abnormal, and ill-conceived rants and challenges.

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/16/2016 - 01:29 pm.

    Does it matter?

    There are plenty of people smarter than I am who read and comment on MinnPost, so I won’t try to claim any particular expertise here, but I’m not sure it matters to Mr. Trump whether Eric, or I, or any number of others believe what he’s saying with the “I was opposed from the beginning” line.

    What matters, it would appear, is whether Mr. Trump believes the line himself, and it seems that he does. Genuine psychologists have a formal term for this syndrome – one I can’t remember at the moment – though it’s something that has been noted and commented upon in several other contexts. There are people – I’ve known a few, and Mr. Trump appears to be one of them – who are not able to admit error, or admit falsehood. When confronted with facts contrary to what they’ve said or written, instead of admitting error, or admitting and correcting the error, they dig in their rhetorical heels and refuse to budge. Sometimes – lately, this appears to be the Trump position – they’ll attack the provider(s) of those contrarian facts as being “unpatriotic,” or “a liar,” or attach some other unsavory label to his opponent.

    My point is that, having watched him a few times, and recognizing in him some of the same qualities I occasionally saw in a student who had a similar difficult relationship with honesty, it seems to me that Trump has persuaded himself that what he says IS “the truth,” whether actual facts support what he says or not. I believe the appropriate cliché here is “perception is reality.” If Mr. Trump believes what he says, and apparently he does, at least in some of these controversial instances, then that IS “reality” as far as he’s concerned. There’s a kind of pathology at work here that mental health professionals recognize fairly readily, and that makes serial falsehoods more and more common, and thus more serious, because the result is a skewed and/or increasingly delusional view of how the world works, and one’s place in it.

    This goes way beyond the acute depression for which Democratic VP candidate Thomas Eagleton was treated, and for which he was vilified by the GOP, and then abandoned by Democratic candidate George McGovern in the very lopsided Republican victory of Richard Nixon in 1972 – more than 40 years ago, which shows my age. The DNC isn’t having to do any work at all here to provide numerous “talking points” suggesting rather strongly that Mr. Trump might need to take advantage of formal mental health treatment. Beyond that humanitarian concern, there’s also the rather relevant question of whether it’s in the interests of the nation to put someone in the Oval Office who suffers from that level of delusion.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/16/2016 - 09:22 pm.

      The term is probably …..

      Sociopath !

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/17/2016 - 09:34 am.

      Second Opinion

      Did you catch the Second Opinion article the other day? Apparently, there are people out there who believe it’s inappropriate to suggest that Trump has a clinically defined mental or personality disorder because people aren’t terribly empathetic about how they do it. And by associating an unofficial diagnosis with Trump and also, simultaneously, showing disdain, it’s creating a stigma for others who could use some medical help. Quite frankly, I think that’s horse pucky. I said so in the comments section of that article, but it never got published. Perhaps because I noted that narcissists know who they are and are pretty ok with how they are, so it seems unlikely that other narcissists will suffer from the association of narcissism with negative connotations because they dismiss anything negative associated with themselves anyway. I also linked the scientific article that explored the phenomena, but I don’t feel like finding it again, so I’ll let someone else check it out.

  9. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/16/2016 - 02:40 pm.

    I don’t know Eric

    Giuliani’s big lie spoken prior to Trump’s dishonest speech may well win the prize. Very hard to forget 9/11.

  10. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/16/2016 - 02:47 pm.

    “Delusional,” at the least…

    You do use one appropriate characterization. How’s this for a good start?
    Found this applicable little piece for his supporters:
    “House Of Lies: 6 Telling Signs You’re Dating A Compulsive Liar”

    1. They lie frequently.
    2. They’re always seeking attention.
    3. They have self-esteem issues.
    4. Their body language is telling.
    5. Their stories always change.
    6. They’re unable to confront the truth.
    Never even thought of this dire possibility: ADHD

    “People with ADHD may also think what they are saying is true when it is not. They may also not actually remember what they said in the first place and then try to guess what they actually said after the fact. And, there may also be times where the person with ADHD knows they are not saying the truth because of the shame of “being caught in a lie” so they try to spin their way out of the whole situation.”
    Then, of course, there’s plain old-fashioned “narcissism.”

    Overt Narcissist: The overt Narcissist must always be in control. They are always right. They don’t hide their expectations that everything must always be all about them and done their way. They have massive egos and they aren’t afraid to show it. This type can verbally or physically slice you to ribbons and feel not an ounce of remorse or guilt. They can be seen as over confident, but it becomes a pathology when the behaviors are way over the top. They are extroverts – their personalities like their sense of entitlement is large, loud, obvious and oppressive.

    Covert Narcissist:
    A Covert Narcissist is a Narcissist who, to the outside world, appears to be kind, altruistic and full of integrity, but they save their rage, extreme selfishness and cruelty for their nearest and dearest. They could be your religious leaders, teachers, counselors, politicians, anyone in a position with some authority or power. Covert Narcissists are very good at pretending. They pretend in order to get what they want, be it power, success, money, fame. They are the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    In any case, Ray, this is just a start….

  11. Submitted by Brad James on 08/16/2016 - 04:14 pm.

    Trump is terrible

    But so is Clinton. I cannot believe that the Democrats nominated the conservative militarist.

    The sequel to the Iraq War (Iran) will be coming soon. Once Clinton finds her own Ahmed Chalabi the invasion will happen. Heckuva job everyone.

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/17/2016 - 08:13 am.

    Recent title in the Andy Borowitz Report:

    In sometimes rambling remarks at a rally, the Republican Presidential nominee called the numerical system “rigged” and unleashed a torrent of abuse on numbers themselves.

    Trump did not specify which nations he would target for a sarcastic nuclear attack.

    “It’s unbelievable and, frankly, very unethical,” Trump said.

    “There are people at my rallies, people desperate for jobs,” Trump said. “Once they inherit millions, they will never want a job again.”

    One sixty-year-old refugee said she left her entire life as a Republican behind after witnessing unspeakable horrors under the new G.O.P. regime.

    “When that 3 A.M. call comes in, and Mr. Trump is busy on Twitter, Dr. Carson and Governor Palin will be there.”

Leave a Reply