“When I can, I tell the truth.”
That’s the President of the United States trying to explain his very casual relationship to truth to ABC News’ White House reporter Jon Karl. It’s a statement that, like many things Trump says, is unintentionally revealing about what he considers facts and how much commitment he feels to ensure he is speaking the truth when communicating information to the public.
The reality is this: Trump tells the truth – defined as an agreed upon fact or facts – when it works for him. When established facts back up something Trump either innately believes to be true or something he wants to be true for political reasons, he is more than happy to tell the truth. But when the facts don’t back up a Trump view or claim, he has zero compunction in creating his own “truth” that works better for his purposes.
Here’s his full answer to Karl, which gives you an even better sense of what Trump thinks about truth:
“Well, I try. I do try … and I always want to tell the truth. When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that’s different or there’s a change, but I always like to be truthful.”
The key to that answer is the seven words I cited above. But the rest is interesting too! Trump wants Karl to know that he does “want to tell the truth” and he gives it the old college “try.” But he gives up the game when he seeks to explain why and when he isn’t truthful. “Sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that’s different or there’s a change,” Trump tells Karl.
Go back and read that last sentence again. I dare you to figure out what Trump is even trying to say. As best I can tell, he seems to suggest that the facts change sometimes – and so when he cites facts and they do change, he can’t really be held responsible for that, now can he?
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That argument is undermined by Trump’s track record, as expertly documented by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog. Yes, the Fact Checker found that Trump said more than 5,000 false or misleading claims in his first 601 days in office – a rate of more than eight a day. But even more importantly for this, the Fact Checker points out that Trump repeats falsehoods dozens of times – even after facts repute that claim. For example, Trump has claimed the US economy is the greatest in American history more than 50 times. Trump has said the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is a witch hunt or a hoax more than 140 times.
Looking at numbers like those, it’s impossible to accept at face value Trump’s claim that he does his best to tell the truth but sometimes circumstances just change and what he has said is the truth winds up being something short of that.
What those numbers prove – or, if you’ve been paying attention, affirm – is that Trump is simply telling himself a story about his life, the presidency and the country that, more often than not, doesn’t track with established facts. And not only that, but also that Trump doesn’t much care whether or not what he is saying is true. He cares that it is believed by his supporters. Their applause, their chants of “Lock her up,” their boos when he mentions the so-called “fake news” media – all of that is the affirmation, in Trump’s mind, that what he is doing is right.
Because he needs to be believed – even when established facts make clear he is lying – Trump has become increasingly willing to tell his supporters that everything that they are told from anyone other than him is to be dismissed as more fake news.
“Stick with us,” he told a VFW crowd in Kansas City back in July. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.
Think about that statement for a minute. The President of the United States is telling people that their eyes and ears aren’t to be trusted. That the only person they should believe – up to and including themselves – is him.
Now consider what we know: That Trump has very little concern for whether the things he says are actually, you know, true.
Add it all up and you get this: We have people taking their marching orders from a deeply unreliable source. A source who happens to also be the President of the United States.