I’ve been trying to wrap my head around our current political situation. My president issues a litany of lies and personal attacks on a daily basis and is rewarded with high approval ratings from members of his party. How did we get to a place where truth and decorum no longer matter?
I realize that American politics has always been plagued with duplicity and mudslinging. But Donald Trump has crossed lines and gone way beyond typical partisan rhetoric. He’s told more than 3,000 falsehoods, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, in the first 18 months of his presidency. He averages as many as nine false statements a day. He’s also ridiculed POWs, the disabled and families of fallen soldiers. He’s insulted our long-time foreign ally leaders while placating ruthless dictators.
Despite his lies and lack of propriety, Republicans overwhelmingly support him. They’ve stood behind him throughout the controversies and scandals. Most Americans, according to an NBC/Survey Monkey poll, feel Trump is regularly untruthful. This includes 22 percent of Republicans. Yet, according to the poll, these Republicans still support him.
It’s important to consider Trump’s motives for lying. Many of his lies serve to feed his ego and reinforce the support of his followers. For example, he has repeatedly claimed that his tax bill resulted in the largest tax cuts in American history. It hasn’t. In fact, his cuts rank eighth. He’s claimed that his border wall has already begun to be built. It has not. He’s claimed that the size of his inaugural audience was the largest in history. It was not. He’s claimed millions of illegal voters participated in the 2016 election. They did not.
Trump will deny the truth even when it’s staring us all in the face. Remember when he refused to admit knowledge of his attorney’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels? In fact, Trump knew all along and reimbursed his attorney for the payment.
His false claims are often easily refuted. It makes little sense for Trump to lie when photos, documents or basic facts can undoubtedly prove him wrong. Yet, he repeats them over and over. The problem: Too many people believe too many lies just because they have been repeated too many times.
Trump also uses false statements to undermine our democratic institutions. Some of his lies are truly egregious and dangerous. For example, every time he claims Russia had no involvement in the 2016 election, he places our democracy in jeopardy and weakens law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He has even publicly defended Russian dictator Vladmir Putin over his own national security advisers.
Similarly, Trump’s attempts to undermine Mueller’s Russian investigation threaten our judicial process. He uses words like “fake news” and “witch hunt” to describe the inquiry, led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian agents. He attacks our free press when it does any reporting he dislikes; threatens to end the investigation; and even brags about possibly pardoning himself and his political allies. Despite Trump’s insistence that there was no wrong-doing, Mueller has already indicted 23 individuals, five of whom have pleaded guilty.
Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is currently being tried on a dozen counts, including tax evasion, money laundering and failure to disclose lobbying work for a foreign pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
As Mueller’s investigation heats up, Trump and his attorneys are clearly moving the goalposts on presidential accountability. For example, Trump’s team has long denied collusion between his campaign and Russia. Now, they claim collusion is not a crime.
Trump is a skillful politician who has discovered how to stir up his base, discredit his detractors and create doubt when needed. He certainly is not the first politician to lie or tell a falsehood. All politicians, of all political backgrounds, have bent the truth in some form or another. Trump has simply perfected the practice.
Trump manufactures information that his supporters want to hear, and in return, they overlook his crude behavior and dishonesty. Republicans are quick to condemn Democrats for crossing the line or simply responding to Trump’s outbursts, but literally cheer Trump’s blatant lies and childish insults. Unfortunately, it appears winning now trumps basic values and decency.
(Faraguna is a founding member of Susquehanna Valley Progress.)