Trump's Orgy of Irresponsibility

Steve Chapman
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Posted: Feb 25, 2016 12:01 AM
Trump's Orgy of Irresponsibility

Jimmy Carter knew that one way to win the trust of the citizenry was to appeal to their moral vanity. He was elected president in 1976 promising "a government that is as good and honest and decent and competent and compassionate and as filled with love as are the American people."

Donald Trump does not try to ingratiate himself by telling Americans how good they are. He does it by telling them it's commendable to be bad. His campaign is not so much a challenge to prevailing standards as a rejection of all standards.

Other candidates fudge, exaggerate and mislead, but they operate within accepted limits on dishonesty. Trump denies truth and embraces falsehood. He can't be proven wrong because he and his followers deny the authority of facts. He encourages his audiences to trust what they feel -- and nothing else.

"Donald J. Trump's record on truth and accuracy is astonishingly poor," Angie Drobnic Holan, a reporter for PolitiFact, wrote in December in The New York Times. "So far, we've fact-checked more than 70 Trump statements and rated fully three-quarters of them as Mostly False, False or 'Pants on Fire' (we reserve this last designation for a claim that is not only inaccurate but also ridiculous)."

That was before a new parade of fictions -- saying the United States is the "highest taxed country in the world," claiming he vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq before it happened and accusing Ted Cruz of having a "double passport." Making stuff up is at the core of his campaign.

Of 96 Trump statements scrutinized by PolitiFact at last count, only seven were true. By contrast, Hillary Clinton, whom Republicans regard as a habitual liar, sticks to the facts slightly more than half the time, according to the fact-checkers.

The brazen deceit Trump exhibits would be fatal to most candidates. Cruz, no slave to veracity, had to fire a spokesman for spreading the claim that Marco Rubio had disparaged the Bible. Trump would not have made that claim. He would have recalled the time Rubio spit on a Bible while wearing a Satan mask in the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

Trump's contempt for the truth is no impediment with a large segment of the Republican primary electorate, which has an adversarial relationship with reality. Two-thirds of Trump supporters think Barack Obama is a Muslim, a survey by Public Policy Polling found, and 61 percent think he was born abroad. Other candidates may decline to indulge voters who are ignorant or unhinged. But Trump is not bound by such dreary customs.

In every way, his campaign has been an orgy of irresponsibility. George W. Bush outraged his critics by waterboarding suspected terrorists, a method he insisted is not torture. Trump says it is torture -- and its only drawback is being too gentle.

"I think we should go much stronger than waterboarding," he said. In his view, "nothing should be taken off the table." Any form of sadism you can imagine, Trump will happily consider.

Terrorist suspects are not the only ones at risk of brutality. When someone disrupted his rally, Trump wished for the days of old, when a protester "would be carried out on a stretcher."

His anathema for Muslims, like his taste for torture, knows no bounds. He called for a "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." He fondly recalled an American general who, according to a doubtful legend, executed Muslim prisoners using bullets dipped in pig's blood.

For some reason, his glorification of hatred and violence appeals to many evangelical Christians, whose savior preached the golden rule. Saintly attributes, in his eyes, are for suckers. Trump tells his supporters that their most vicious impulses should not be suppressed.

Even on less visceral matters, Trump sees boundaries as something to violate without compunction. His tax plan would swell the federal budget deficit by $10 trillion over the next decade. His insistence that this approach will bring the economy roaring back will convince only those who need no convincing. Like his other policies, it treats recklessness as a virtue.

Some politicians think that, on occasion, exceptions have to be made to our observance of civilized norms. Trump wants to toss those civilized norms on a bonfire. He's found plenty of Americans just dying to light the match.