“Truth or Consequences” was the name of one of longest-running shows in U.S. history, starting as a radio program in 1940, then migrating to television where it thrived for decades and survived with few interruptions until 1978. It made one more brief comeback in the ’80s.
(A town in New Mexico, originally named Hot Springs, renamed itself “Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in order to win a visit from the host and have the game broadcast from there occasionally.)
But forget about the show; it’s the title I want to celebrate. It’s a reminder of a time when it was believed (or at least preached) that if you strayed from telling the truth, you would suffer consequences.
Perhaps politicians were exempted from that rule. An old joke (“How can you tell when a politician is lying? Answer: Their lips move …”) suggests that a certain cynicism existed. But the Trump experience has established a new low in public expectations. Trump lies, constantly and without making any serious effort to deny or dispute the obvious contrary evidence to many of his tweets and statements.
The fact that he became president and retains a roughly 40 percent approval rating (and a much larger approval among evangelical Christians, who claim to respect holy writ) certainly raises the question of whether the Ninth Commandment retains much clout in the 21st century.
It’s true, of course, that the line between truth and falsehood can sometimes be a slippery one, but most of the time, in President Trump’s case, the lies aren’t even slippery. His success, to date, challenges the old belief that if you lie often enough, people eventually stop believing you.
On the other side of the coin, over recent decades a small but growing function of the news media has been to call out falsehoods. I refer to the institution of “fact checking” features, including Politifact, FactCheck.org and full-time fact checking staff at some of the major media outlets. I have high esteem for them, certainly including the “Fact Checker” feature of the Washington Post.
The Post’s Fact Checker has followed the utterances of Trump since his candidacy but has also begun keeping score of them and today publishes a new, up-to-date summary. Forgetting about candidate Trump, for the moment, and dealing only with Trumpian statements since Inauguration Day, the Post fact checkers updated the tally of untruths and finds that:
In the 466 days since he took the oath of office, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Fct Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.
That’s an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day.
When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. Slowly, the average number of claims has been creeping up.
Indeed, since we last updated this tally two months ago, the president has averaged about 9 claims a day.”
This is bad. Very bad. Of course, the president has repeated many of his false or misleading claims multiple times. The full Washington Post Fact Checker team’s overview of the false and misleading claims of the current incumbent is available here.
If you want, you can quibble with the Fact Checker methodology or their ruling in a particular instance. But if our standards have fallen so low that we are going to try to excuse anything near this volume of presidential lying, we are in a very bad place.