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Fact-checking Trump: The need has only risen since the inauguration

We’ve seen dishonest politicians before, but I’m not sure we’ve seen anything of this magnitude. There’s no reason to believe that he is going to mend his ways.

President Donald Trump meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room on Monday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Donald Trump lies often, lies obviously, seldom retracts or acknowledges the lies and pretty much never apologizes for them. The lies are usually either self-aggrandizing, unfairly disparaging of other individuals or whole groups, or, in several of the recent instances, the lies have been bizarrely and transparently false efforts to strike back at someone who has said something less than worshipful about Trump himself.

To me, this behavior encompasses an impressive number of character failings just on the single topic of honesty. His lying was so extreme and unrepentant that journalists have felt obliged to break from their former norms, of simply pointing out the inaccuracies, to a practice of calling many of his statements “lies.”

Anyone who cared to know that Trump is a habitual liar knew it a long time ago. Almost 62 million U.S. voters either didn’t know this, didn’t care, didn’t consider it disqualifying or at least found it to be more than offset by his many other fine qualities. I’m still trying to understand that last part, but I freely admit that I have not be able to fully grasp the phenomenon.

We’ve seen dishonest politicians before, but I’m not sure we’ve seen anything of this magnitude. There’s no reason to believe that he is going to mend his ways (and why should he, after all since his mendacity didn’t impede and may even have facilitated his rise to the presidency?) So the question perhaps is what are we, who still attach some importance to facts and honesty, to do about it?

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At the moment, all I can think of is to try not to get tired of pointing out the lies; try not to slip into apathy at the endless task of pointing out the lies. We are greatly aided in this endeavor by the rise of a subgenre of journalism that has arisen over recent years devoted directly to fact-checking. The big national papers have full-time fact-checking operations. My own favorite is the original fact-checking site (as far as I know), FactCheck.org, which isn’t tied to a specific newspaper and is available free on the Worldwide Web. FactCheck is calm and staid and doesn’t score the lies on a scale of “Pinocchios” or rate the biggest lies as “Pants on Fire.” But FactCheck is my fave.

So, in that spirit, and especially in the spirit alluded to above of not just “normalizing” Trump’s blizzard of lies, here is the summary first paragraph of FactCheck’s discussion of Trump’s claim, in his recent meeting with members of the U.S. intelligence community, that the idea that his “feud” with the U.S. intelligence community was itself a fiction made up by the lying media.

“President Trump engaged in revisionist history when he accused the “dishonest” media of making “it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.” In fact, Trump made numerous disparaging remarks about the U.S. intelligence community.”

The full FactCheck piece on the topic, with the details, is here.

In truth, Trump recently compared intelligence officials to Nazis, but that’s ancient history (almost a month old, before the existence of papyrus on which such statements could be recorded). And, anyway, he said it to a group of reporters, so it may not count, because they probably just made it up. But oops, he also said that in a tweet so it does count.  

Trump also rejected for quite a while the intelligence community’s finding that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election in order to help him get elected. He has since acknowledged – and this is a rare, praiseworthy moment, that he might have been wrong about that – but, true to the essence of his character, he neither retracted his earlier statements, nor apologized for them. He just said, yeah, maybe Russia did. Although it was a pitiful effort to show that he could back down on one of his ridiculous claims, it was way too little, way too late.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but between the time I finished this piece (or at least the parts above this paragraph), but hadn’t yet sent it to my editors, Trump decided to dust off one of his already rejected previous lies, and give it a fresh shot.

As you may know, Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more popular votes than Trump in November. That is, by a huge margin, the biggest margin by which any previous president lost the popular while still winning the electoral vote. It’s about six times better than the margin by which George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 to Al Gore.

 Trump and some of his minions made up a lie that Trump had actually won the popular vote but his victory had been stolen by fraud. Trump tweeted about that, too. To my knowledge, Trump never produced an iota of evidence to back up this utter, pitiful falsehood. Then the lie went away. But apparently the wound to Trump’s ego of winning in this fashion apparently never fully subsided. Or perhaps there is some other explanation, but it is surely within the realm of psychiatry.

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And so, after (as I just mentioned) I had finished writing this piece, the New York Times reports that yet again, at his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday, Mr. Trump said again that he actually won the total national popular vote except for the millions of illegal votes cast against him by immigrants who are in the country illegally and are therefore not eligible to vote.

If he is ever able to prove this, I will certainly apologize. Until such proof is convincingly adduced, I will cite this as merely the latest backup for the several things I said in the first paragraph above about Trump’s strange (or estranged) relationship to the truth.

Meanwhile, in other not-real-definitely-made-up news, New Yorker-based satirist Andy Borowitz’s latest column is headlined “Trump Creates Ten Million Jobs for Fact-Checkers.”