On Wednesday, the White House acknowledged that President Donald Trump told two lies.
The first came when he claimed, at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, that the President of Mexico had called him recently. Said Trump: “Even the President of Mexico called me. Their southern border, they said very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get to our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”
The second came last week in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the transcript of which was published Tuesday night. In the interview, Trump boasted: “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.”
Neither of those phone calls actually happened, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted in her daily press briefing Wednesday.
When Trump said the President of Mexico had called him, he was referencing a conversation the two men had at the G20 meeting in Germany, which ended July 8.
As for the Boy Scouts “call,” what Trump meant was that “multiple members of the Boy Scouts leadership following his speech there that day congratulated him, praised him and offered quite powerful compliments following his speech,” Sanders explained.
Despite those admissions, Sanders blanched at the idea Trump had purposely misled. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie,” she said. “That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call.”
But, here’s the thing: This is not so easily dismissed as Sanders would like.
Why? Because this is a pattern of conduct with Trump. Throughout his candidacy – and his presidency – he has said things that are not provable, at best, and not true, at worst.
He saw Muslims celebrating on the rooftops in northern New Jersey on September 11, 2001. Evidence that President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States had been brought to his attention. Three to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. His inauguration crowd was the largest ever recorded. Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
And those are just the falsehoods that have drawn the most attention. The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker counted 836 false or misleading claims in Trump’s first six months in office, an an average of more than four a day. The New York Times’ “Trump’s Lies” database shows that the President lied or made a false claim in each of his first 40 days in office.
Against all of that untruth, telling two fibs about phone calls seems minor. In both cases, Trump was exaggerating to the point of lying to make himself look good.
Trump’s border policies are working so well that even Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, no friend of Trump’s, had to acknowledge it. That, in Trump’s mind, is proof positive that all the chatter about him not being able to make good on his campaign promises is, to coin a phrase, fake news.
Trump’s claim that the head of the Boy Scouts called him to tell him how amazing his speech was came after the Wall Street Journal reporters and editors interviewing him suggested the reception Trump had received at the Jamboree last Monday was somewhat “mixed.” Trump can’t have that image; he is cheered, loudly, wherever he goes. Period.
In both cases, it’s possible that Sanders’ version of events is right. That Trump may have made up the phone calls but that the idea he meant to convey in each situation was fundamentally accurate.
It’s also possible, of course, that it isn’t true. That Trump heard what he wanted to hear or made it up entirely in order to make himself look or feel better.
The broader point here is that these misstatements, while minor as compared to something like, say, what role Trump played in the crafting of his eldest son’s statement responding to the reporting of a meeting with a Russian lawyer, still matter.
They matter because they reveal – or maybe re-reveal – that Trump views the truth as a very subjective thing. On matters small and large, he bends reality to fit how he wants it to be. The Boy Scouts DID love him and so he said the head of the group called him to tell him he was the best ever. Whether it actually happened or not is, to Trump, not all that important. It felt like it happened. He was telling the truth as he sees it.
Of course, the truth as you might see it isn’t the same thing as the plain, old truth. And if Trump is willing to lie about something so minor as phone calls, what else is he willing to stretch – or break – the truth about?
That’s why the deceptions revealed Wednesday matter. And they (should) matter a lot.