Donald Trump must be the biggest liar in the history of American politics, and that’s saying something.
Trump lies the way other people breathe. We’re used to politicians who stretch the truth. But I can’t think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track.
Trump lies when citing specifics. He claimed that the shooter in the Orlando massacre was an Afghan; the killer, Omar Mateen, was an American citizen born in Queens. He claimed that a “tremendous flow of Syrian refugees” has been entering the country; the total between 2012 and 2015 was around 2,000, barely a trickle. He claimed that “we have no idea” who those refugees are; they undergo up to two years of careful vetting before being admitted.
Trump lies when speaking in generalities. He claimed that President Obama “has damaged our security by restraining our intelligence gathering and failing to support law enforcement.” Obama actually expanded domestic intelligence operations and only dialed them back following the Edward Snowden revelations.
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Trump lies by sweeping calumny. “For some reason, the Muslim community does not report people like this,” he said of Mateen. But according to law enforcement officials, numerous potential plots have been foiled precisely because concerned Muslims reported seeing signs of self-radicalization.
Trump lies by smarmy insinuation. “We’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” he said of Obama. “There’s something going on – it’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.” He also said of Obama: “He doesn’t get it, or he gets it better than anybody understands. It’s one or the other, and either one is unacceptable.”
You read that right. The presumptive Republican nominee implies that the president is somehow disloyal. There is no other way to read “he gets it better than anybody understands.”
I write not to defend Obama. My aim is to defend the truth.
Political discourse can be civil or rowdy, gracious or mean. But to have any meaning, it has to be grounded in fact.
All of the above examples come from just five days’ worth of Trump’s lies. By the time you read this, surely there will have been more.
It goes against all journalistic instinct to write in a news story, as The Washington Post did Monday, that Trump’s national security address was “a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration.” But I don’t think we’re doing our job if we simply report assertions of fact without evaluating whether they are factual.
Trump has a right to his anger, his xenophobia and his bigotry. He also has a right to lie – but we have a duty to call him on it.