According to The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column, President Donald Trump made his 10,000th “false or misleading claim” on April 26, 827 days into his first term. Astonishingly, the pace of his falsehoods keeps accelerating, from fewer than five per day during his first 100 days in office to an average of more than 17 per day in the week leading up to number 10,000. During a recent 45-minute telephone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump managed to utter a falsehood about once every minute.
There is no discernible pattern to Trump’s lies. The Post found that 2,217 occurred during his rallies, 1,803 on his Twitter feed, and 999 in his speeches. He lied about the same topic—his imaginary border wall—on 160 separate occasions. Overall, the president has repeated 21 false claims 20 or more times, and more than 300 false claims at least three times. He has lied about everything from North Korea’s nuclear program to paying off porn actresses. He lies about steel mills and windmills. At his April 27 rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he lied about the weather forecast—though it turns out that weather-related falsehoods are surprisingly common with him. On the morning of July 26, 2018, for instance, the traveling press corps was informed that the president’s departure from Washington by helicopter had been canceled because of bad weather. Reporters looked up and saw nothing but sun and sky. In the Trump White House, it’s apparently OK to lie even about whether the sky is blue.
By now, just about everyone is aware of the president’s pathological predilection. When he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September of last year and repeated one of his favorite lies—that in his first two years in office, he had accomplished more than “almost any administration in the history of our country”—the assembled audience of world leaders burst into laughter. The tape shows Trump (briefly) speechless. He later admitted that he “didn’t expect that reaction,” but then changed his mind and fibbed yet again, claiming that he “meant to get some laughter.”
Many of Trump’s lies, of course, have significant consequences. At the Green Bay rally, he accused abortion providers of routinely murdering newborn infants. “The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.” As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg pointed out, “Abortion providers are regular targets of domestic terrorism, and Trump’s lies serve as incitement.” Earlier that week, Goldberg continued, “a 30-year-old Trump supporter named Matthew Haviland was arrested and accused of threatening to rape and murder a professor who supports abortion rights. According to an affidavit by an F.B.I. joint terrorism task force officer, Haviland wrote in an email, ‘I will kill every Democrat in the world so we never more have to have our babies brutally murdered by you absolute terrorists.’”
Even after Trump’s 10,000 lies in office, many in the media still find themselves paralyzed by journalistic practices that prevent them from calling a lie a lie or a president who tells lies a liar. And so the media continue to enable him. The day after the rally, The New York Times reported that what Trump had done was to “revive…a standard, and inaccurate, refrain about doctors ‘executing babies.’” That’s not quite the same as saying Trump lied.
Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star, who also tracks the president’s deceptions, says that most journalists rarely bother to mention that Trump’s statements are filled with falsehoods. “If you watched a network news segment, read an Associated Press article or glanced at the front page of the newspaper in the city that hosted him, you’d typically have no idea that he was so wholly inaccurate.” Most coverage, Dale points out, reads something like “Trump speaks to big excited crowd, insults X and Y, talks policy Z.”
According to a CNN study, “The Mueller report documents at least 77 specific instances where President Donald Trump’s campaign staff, administration officials and family members, Republican backers and his associates lied or made false assertions” to the public.
Predictably, Trump and his handpicked attorney general, William Barr, have been lying about those lies ever since. Even before Barr undertook what Lawfare’s Paul Rosenzweig termed a “transparent effort to mislead the public in advance of the report’s release,” only 29 percent of Americans agreed with Trump that he had been exonerated—much less with his lunatic contention that “This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.”
It turns out, thankfully, that most Americans don’t believe Trump. Fewer than three in 10, according to a Post “Fact Checker” poll conducted late last year, believe his most common lies, and barely one in six believe anything close to all of them. Sixty-five percent of Americans don’t think that Trump is being honest with the country. What worries me, however, is that people don’t realize how much more dishonest Trump is than any of his predecessors. Only about 50 percent of Americans said they think he is “less honest” than any previous president. This illusion is fed by the media’s blasé coverage of Trump’s prodigious lying, and it contributes to a cynicism that only invites further dishonesty.
In her 1967 essay “Truth and Politics,” Hannah Arendt noted the importance of “the consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth” as a means of undermining not merely democracy but also “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world,” thereby laying the groundwork for the replacement of a democratic system with a totalitarian one. It’s hard not to conclude that we are well on our way.