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“An Antagonistic Relationship To The Truth”: Donald Trump Is A New Kind Of Dissembler

Most partisans would probably tell you that while their own party’s leaders sometimes get a fact wrong here or there, the other side is a bunch of blatant liars, whose contempt for the truth leaves the public in a perpetual cloud of misinformation. We don’t have to settle who’s right on this question to acknowledge that in politics, there are ordinary tale-tellers and then there’s Donald Trump. As he has in so many ways, Trump has upended the usual operation of politics by refusing to play by its rules, written or not.

The presumption that politicians should at least try to speak the truth as often as they can is something most everyone shares, whether Democrats, Republicans, or the news media that cover them. It’s that presumption that establishes a basic set of behaviors for all concerned—for instance, that news media will call out lies from politicians when they notice them, that the politicians will try to avoid getting caught in lies, and that when they do, they’ll avoid repeating the lie lest they be tagged forevermore as dishonest.

So what do you do when a candidate makes it clear that not only does he not care about the truth, he doesn’t care whether everybody knows it? This is the dilemma of covering Donald Trump.

Trump is distinctive in more than one way. First, there’s the sheer breadth and character of his falsehoods. Absurd exaggerations, mischaracterizations of his own past, distortions about his opponents, descriptions of events that never occurred, inventions personal and political, foreign and domestic, Trump does it all (you can peruse Politifact’s Trump file if you doubt).

In this, he differs from other candidates, who usually have had one distinctive area of dishonesty that characterized them. Some hid things they were embarrassed about or thought would damage them politically, some deceived about their personal histories in order to paint a flattering picture of themselves, and others spun a web of falsehood to gain the public’s assent for policies they suspected might not otherwise gain public support. But there has simply never been a candidate who has lied as frequently, as blatantly, and as blithely as Trump.

Then there’s the fact that even when Trump gets caught lying, he keeps on repeating the lie. How often does he say that The Art of the Deal is “the number one best-selling business book of all time”? (It isn’t.) How many times did he claim that thousands of Muslim Americans gathered on rooftops in New Jersey to cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center, no matter how often he was told it never happened? He has said over and over that he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War before it began, despite the fact that it’s utterly false. This is one of his most spectacular fabrications, because he even claims that “I was visited by people from the White House asking me to sort of, could I be silenced because I seem to get a disproportionate amount of publicity.” Although we know he got no publicity for his fictional opposition to the Iraq War because people have checked and he didn’t, I have to admit that I can’t prove definitively that the Bush administration never sent a delegation to plead with Trump to stop his nonexistent criticism of the war. But the idea is so preposterous that no sane person could believe it. And that was before he charged that Ted Cruz’s father was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald and may have had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.

Unfortunately, as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, “Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. … But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false.” Just yesterday on Meet the Press, Trump claimed that he wants to change the voting system so that undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to cast ballots; a visibly shocked Chuck Todd said, “Well, of course. That is the law as it stands already.” To which Trump replied, “No, it’s not. I mean, you have places where people just walk in and vote.” Todd moved on. Trump also said “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world,” another falsehood he often repeats, and which Todd wasn’t quick enough to catch.

So does Trump’s antagonistic relationship with the truth matter? It depends what we mean when we ask the question. It certainly didn’t hurt him in the primaries. Perhaps that’s because of the overwhelming force of his personality, or perhaps it’s because Republican voters have been told for years that anything the news media tell them is by definition poisoned by liberal bias, so why bother listening to some fact-checker? Trump’s supporters may be particularly unconcerned about what’s true and what isn’t; they were more likely than supporters of Ted Cruz or John Kasich to believe in a wide range of conspiracy theories, among other things.

But like Trump’s support more broadly, what didn’t hurt him in the primaries did hurt him with the general electorate. Trump may have triumphed in the GOP contest, but along the way he acquired unfavorable ratings in the 60s, and one poll found only 27 percent of Americans rating him as honest and trustworthy.

But the electoral effects of Trump’s blizzard of baloney are only part of the story; we also have to ask what his untruthfulness tells us about the kind of president he’d be. Unfortunately, we in the media don’t always go about assessing honesty in ways that help voters understand its implications for the presidency. For instance, in 2000, George W. Bush was portrayed as a man who, though a bit dim, was positively brimming with homespun integrity. Only a few observers noted that Bush regularly dissembled about his record as governor of Texas and the content of his policy proposals, which suggested that even if he might be faithful to his wife, as president he might not be honest about matters of policy. And he wasn’t, with some rather serious consequences. His predecessor, on the other hand, saw all kinds of questions of honesty raised about him during the 1992 campaign. And it turned out that like Bush, Bill Clinton’s prior behavior provided a good preview of what he’d do in the White House: As a candidate he tried to cover up his extramarital affairs, and as a president he, guess what, tried to cover up an extramarital affair.

In Trump’s case, though, his whoppers are so wide-ranging that it’s almost impossible to find a topic area about which he wouldn’t dissemble. He lies to foment hatred against minority groups. He lies about the condition of the country. He lies about what his opponents have said or done. He lies about his own past. It’s hard to foresee that a President Trump would act any differently than candidate Trump does, and what would it mean if no one could trust anything the president tells them?

People who live in dictatorships with a captive press often assume that whatever the government says is bogus by definition. Needless to say, that kind of relationship between the government and the governed is not conducive to popular legitimacy or any kind of problem-solving that requires public involvement. With Donald Trump in the White House offering a daily delivery of fibs and fabrications, it isn’t hard to imagine that the public would conclude that the government is nothing more than a second-rate reality show, worthy of little attention or regard. Imagine what he could get away with then.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 8, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What A Healthy Political Party This Is”: Why Sarah Palin’s Feud With Paul Ryan Matters

For months, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered two competing messages. The Republican leader repeatedly felt compelled to denounce Donald Trump’s rhetoric, but at the same time, the Wisconsin congressman insisted he would support his party’s presidential nominee – no matter who prevailed in the primaries and caucuses.

But late last week, with Trump’s GOP rivals having abandoned the race, Ryan just couldn’t bring himself to follow through. “I’m just not ready to do that at this point,” he said when asked about backing Trump publicly. “I’m not there right now.”

Some congressional Republicans were incensed, as were some Republican pundits. Trump is even threatening to remove Ryan as chairman of this year’s Republican National Convention. But as MSNBC’s Christina Coleburn reported yesterday, a certain former half-term governor of Alaska intends to go even further.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said in an interview that aired Sunday that House Speaker Paul Ryan could be ousted for his hesitancy to back Donald Trump, and suggested that Ryan’s reluctance was fueled by aspirations to run for president in 2020.

When asked for her thoughts about Ryan’s stance on Trump, Palin invoked former Rep. Eric Cantor. The ex-Republican House majority leader, who was viewed as the likely successor to former House Speaker John Boehner, was defeated by a Tea Party challenger in a stunning upset in the 2014 Virginia primary.

“I think Paul Ryan is soon to be ‘Cantored,’ as in Eric Cantor,” Palin said on CNN. “His political career is over but for a miracle because he has so disrespected the will of the people, and as the leader of the GOP, the convention, certainly he is to remain neutral, and for him to already come out and say who he will not support was not a wise decision of his.”

I see. So, the Republican Party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee has decided to go to war with the Republican Party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee.

What a healthy political party this is.

The reference to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wasn’t accidental. The Alaska Republican added yesterday that she’s throwing her support behind Trump supporter Paul Nehlen, who’s taking on Ryan in a Wisconsin primary.

“Yes, I will do whatever I can for Paul Nehlen,” Palin said. “This man is a hard working guy, so in touch with the people. Paul Ryan and his ilk, their problem is they have become so disconnected from the people whom they are elected to represent … they feel so threatened at this point that their power, their prestige, their purse will be adversely affected by the change that is coming with Trump and someone like Paul Nehlen that they’re not thinking straight right now.”

A few hours later, Palin posted a Facebook message, which she appears to have written herself: “Rep. Paul Ryan abandoned the district he was to represent as special interests dictated his legislative priorities. Without ever having a real job outside of politics, it seems he disconnected himself from the people, thus easily disrespected the will of the people. It’s time for a change.”

Remember, by most metrics, Paul Ryan is the most conservative House Speaker in modern American history, but for the Trump wing of the Republican Party, Ryan is just an establishment sellout who needs to be replaced.

There’s little to suggest Ryan’s career in jeopardy – though, in fairness, I would have said the same thing about Eric Cantor two years ago at this time – and there’s even less to suggest the Speaker is worried about the primary. Palin has a habit of picking pointless fights that don’t amount to much, and for her to complain about someone else “abandoning” their constituents is kind of hilarious.

But the bottom line is that in a normal, functioning party, fights like these simply don’t happen. In 2016, it’s become almost commonplace in Republican politics.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Those Who Can’t Afford To Forget”: We Cannot Sleepwalk Through Life; We Cannot Be Ignorant Of History

Recently I linked to an important article by Charles Pierce titled: When We Forget.

The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest…

A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump.

While that spoke powerfully to what we are witnessing in the current Republican presidential primary, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing. This morning while I was writing about President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University, I finally figure out what that was about. Here is a part of what he said when talking about the unique role of African American leadership:

…even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history.

Think about that for a moment…why can’t African Americans be ignorant of history? It is because any attempt to understand their place in this country today has to be informed by our collective past. For example, African Americans can’t tackle BlackLivesMatter without some understanding of the fact that – throughout our history – they haven’t. White people have the privilege of being able to forget that story…Black people don’t.

Remembering isn’t simply about knowing the history of how things used to be. It is also about remembering the people who fought the battles of the past and the strategies they used in the struggle. That’s what President Obama’s speech at Howard was all about – the Black theory of change.

But it isn’t just African Americans who can’t afford to forget. Finding authenticity as a woman means understanding the history of patriarchy. Native Americans must remember the genocide that nearly obliterated their culture. Asian Americans can never forget the straightjacket foisted upon them by being the “model minority.” LGBT Americans remember everything from Stonewall to Matthew Shepard. And Mexican Americans remember that many of their people were here prior to this country’s settlement by European Americans – who now assume they are the “immigrants.”

I know I’m glossing over centuries of history, but I’m doing so to make the point that there are those who can’t afford to forget because, as Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 9, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, American History, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Rational Outcome Can’t Be Taken For Granted”: Democrats, Don’t Celebrate Trump’s Nomination. Fear it.

I know the polls say Donald Trump cannot win. But what if we are looking at the wrong poll question?

What if Trump’s overwhelming negatives don’t matter? Or, to put it another way, what if the country’s negatives matter more?

Right now, about 6 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 36 percent view him positively.

But the country is faring even worse. In the most recent average of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics, 26.9 percent of Americans think the nation is headed in the right direction and 64.9 percent think we are heading down the wrong track.

So what if even voters who respect Hillary Clinton’s competence reject her as the embodiment of business as usual? And what if even voters who do not like Trump’s bigotry or bluster care more that he will, in their view, shake things up?

Sure, these voters might tell themselves, he may be crude, or inconsistent, or ill-informed. He may insult women and Hispanics and other groups. But it’s part of a shtick. He probably doesn’t mean half of it. He’s just an entertainer. The desire to send a message of disgust or disapproval, in other words, could lead voters to overlook, discount, wish away or excuse many Trump sins.

Meanwhile, Clinton cannot shake free of the status quo. You may remember how this bedeviled Al Gore when he asked voters to give the Democratic Party a third straight presidential term in 2000. The vice president managed to achieve the worst of both worlds, alienating Bill Clinton and his most ardent supporters without establishing himself as an entirely new brand.

Unlike Gore, Hillary Clinton is not an incumbent. But she is no less associated with the establishment, having served as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state over the past quarter-century. Even if she were inclined to do so, she could not afford to distance herself from President Obama, whose backers she will need to turn out in large numbers.

I know there is an element of irrationality in these fears. I understand that not every dissatisfied American will vote for Trump.

About two-thirds of the country may think we are on the wrong track, after all, but Obama’s approval rating is 51 percent and rising.

Meanwhile, only 4.7 percent of eligible voters have actually cast a ballot for Trump in the party nomination process so far, as an analysis by FairVote shows. Many of the remaining 95.3 percent, no matter how unhappy most are with the performance of their government, will take their responsibility seriously enough that they will not vote for someone who casually threatens the faith and credit of the United States, breezily posits the merits of nuclear proliferation and cheerfully espouses torture as an instrument of U.S. policy.

Republicans are divided, the economy is improving, the demographics are increasingly in Democrats’ favor. The likeliest result of a Trump nomination is a Republican washout up and down the ballot.

I do get all that.

Still, when I hear smart people explaining why Trump cannot win, all I can think is: Aren’t you the ones who told us that he couldn’t top 30 percent, and then 40 percent, and then 50 percent in the Republican primaries? Weren’t you confident that he was finished after he called Mexicans rapists, and insulted prisoners of war, and dished out a menstruation insult?

Did you predict his nomination? If not, we don’t want to hear your certainty about his November defeat.

Nor is it reassuring to read how happy the Clinton camp must be to be facing such a weak opponent. They need to be running scared — smart, but scared — now and for the next six months.

I do have faith in the American voter, I really do. But when two-thirds of the country is unhappy, a rational outcome can’t be taken for granted.

 

By: Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post, May 8, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, General Election 2016 | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Donald Trump’s Catastrophic Ignorance”: Falling Flat On His Face Because He Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About

The general election has begun, and Donald Trump is clearly trying to pivot to the center. As my colleague Jeff Spross points out, he’s backed away from his monstrously rich-tilted tax plan, suggested more government borrowing might be in order, and raised the possibility of increasing the minimum wage.

It’s very clearly an attempt to win middle- and working-class votes for the general election. Looking past his outrageous bigotry, there’s just one problem with this strategy: Trump’s spectacular policy ignorance. It’s going to be hard to capture the center when one has only the vaguest idea of what that even means.

As the various fact-checking crews never tire of pointing out, Trump is constantly making one outrageously false statement after another. Many of them are just simple lies about how rich he is, whether or not his steaks exist, how well he’s doing in the polls, and so forth. But many other times it’s Trump genuinely trying to opine about some issue, and falling flat on his face because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

There was the time that Marco Rubio landed a rare clean hit on him during the primary debates by demonstrating clearly that Trump has no plan whatsoever to replace ObamaCare, or on another occasion when it was stone obvious that he has no idea how the old Cuba embargo worked, or what the newly opened relationship entails.

President Trump renames Obamacare to ‘Trumpcare.’ ‘it’s good now, I fixed it.’ Trump declares

— raandy (@randygdub) August 26, 2015

More recently, Trump said several times that Puerto Rico (suffering a serious debt crisis) should simply declare bankruptcy. That’s a good idea except that it’s illegal, which is actually the subject of a proposal being fiercely debated in Congress. That’s the entire problem in the first place. He’s not just ignorant, he can’t even be bothered to pay attention to the most basic content of what’s happening in Washington.

More alarmingly, he also suggested on Thursday that should the U.S. ever run into any debt problems, he would just force creditors to accept a reduction in the value of their bonds (or “haircut”). This means at least partial sovereign default. As U.S. debt is the foundation of the global financial system, this would quite literally threaten economic Armageddon — and clearly comes from a misapplication of business logic to government policy, as Matt Yglesias notes. Trump made his money by borrowing a lot, investing in rapidly appreciating real estate, cashing out the equity, then declaring bankruptcy if there was a crash later, as economist Hyman Minksy detailed at the time.

That’s a sensible if parasitic approach to business. But it’s no way to run a nation. Government policy creates the underlying economic framework that allows businessmen to take risks like Trump did building up his fortune. U.S. government debt, as the world’s safest economic asset, is a key part of that framework. Treating it like a corporate junk bond would make it massively more risky than previously thought, creating a financial shockwave that would reverberate through the entire world and cause a global economic panic.

More to the point, there’s no reason to do such a thing. Businesses borrow because it’s one way to get money. But governments can create infinite money out of thin air. With the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. government is most concerned with workers, infrastructure, raw materials, and inflation, not using bonds to make a quick buck.

There’s probably a limit to how much this sort of alarming bungling will hurt Trump. He seems to vaguely understand that people like higher wages and welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare, which will do him some good, and it must be admitted that a great many voters don’t have the slightest clue about public policy.

Still, to the small extent that anyone trusts economic journalists and pundits anymore, this sort of thing will create a deluge of coverage portraying Trump as an incompetent maniac who’s going to obliterate everyone’s job. That’s going to make running to the middle a tough sell.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 9, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Global Economy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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