That the President of the United States doesn’t tell the truth – a lot – is not new news.
And so, while the fact that President Donald Trump has now said more than 10,000 false or misleading things in his first 827 days in office, according to The Washington Post Fact Checker, is both galling and appalling, isn’t all that surprising.
What is surprising – and even more important – than the sheer number of falsehoods Trump spews is that the rate at which he does so has picked up dramatically seemingly with every month he has spent in the White House.
This line, from the Fact Checker analysis, was knock-you-over stuff for me:
“All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.”
Think on that for a minute. In a three-day period, the President said or tweeted 171 untruths. That’s an average of 57 untruths a day. It’s hard to do that even if you are trying.
Over the last seven months, again according to Fact Checker calculations, Trump is not telling the truth at a rate THREE times higher than he did in his first 600 days in office – and even then he was averaging eight false or misleading statements a day.
What’s clear here is that as Trump’s presidency rolls along, he retreats more and more into a world of his own creation, a world that is increasingly devoid of any objectively accepted facts. What’s also clear is that as Trump turns more and more to his 2020 reelection race, his exaggerations, distortions and outright lies grow more and more common.
All of which means that if it took 827 days to say 10,000 false things, it could well take half that time for him to get to 20,000. (In case you are wondering, 413 days from today is June 15, 2020 – which is right in the heart of the campaign season.
Two things are true about this stunning mountain of lies and distortions:
1) It will make very little difference as to whether Trump is reelected in 2020
2) It is the defining trait of his presidency and will be his lasting legacy on politics
On the first point, it’s important to remember that Trump didn’t win in 2016 because people thought he was honest and trustworthy. Just 33% of voters said they believed him to be honest and trustworthy, according to exit polling, while 64% said he was not. Most remarkably, 1 in 5 people who said Trump wasn’t honest or trustworthy voted for him anyway.
That Trump has prevaricated, exaggerated and distorted while in office isn’t a surprise for most Americans. It’s baked in when it comes to Trump. People don’t expect him to tell the truth. In the same way they don’t expect him to act “presidential” or to stop tweeting. They may not like that we have a President who makes false claim after false claim, but they aren’t going to vote him out of office because of it.
Which brings me to my second point: That whether or not voters care about Trump’s lying – and whether or not they punish him for it – is immaterial. What Trump has done – and continues to do – is devalue the idea of truth in our culture. If not telling the truth at the highest levels of our government and on issues that have global consequences, isn’t punished, then what incentive do people in everyday life have to adhere to facts and truth? If the President of the United States can lie with impunity, then why not take advantage of the truth in your own life every once in a while?
This is, obviously, hugely corrosive to civil society and democracy itself. Without an ability to agree that capital “T” truth exists and without a moral framework to judge lying as wrong – and carrying potential penalties – our ability to come together on literally anything is badly compromised.
That will be the Trump legacy – no matter whether he loses in 2020 or wins a second term. A legacy that not telling the truth is OK – as long as you get away with it. That facts are fungible. That reality is in the eye of the beholder.