Is Donald Trump a liar?
The president has been called just about every epithet you can think of. But lately the critics have zeroed in on lying and even accused Trump of creating a culture of lying. They are harping on this theme incessantly.
According to The Washington Post, Trump has told 12,000 lies. If true, that would average out to more than 12 lies for every day of his presidency.
Ordinarily, I don’t take claims like that seriously. But Robert Shiller, a highly respected Yale University economist, writes in The New York Times that Trump’s behavior could change the entire culture, including the way Americans view ourselves and the way others see us. Shiller even argues that a culture in which honesty is not habitual can affect economic growth and well-being.
So, let me jump to the bottom line. Between Trump and his critics – both on Capitol Hill and in the media -- there’s no contest. The critics have been far more dishonest than Trump by a long shot. If we are creating a culture in which it’s OK to lie, the worst offenses don’t start with Donald Trump. More on that below.
But first, how does Trump compare to other presidents? Has he ever told a really big whopper? One that can rival the big lies told by his predecessors?
Bill Clinton didn’t just lie. He committed perjury. But even though it cost him his law license, the voters didn’t think that lying about sex was bad enough to deny him the presidency.
Barack Obama’s offense was far more serious. His promise that people would be able to keep their insurance and their doctors if they liked what they had may have made the difference in ushering in Obamacare – the largest entitlement program in almost half a century. White House aides later admitted they knew all along these claims were untrue.
Then there are lies that cost lives. Lots of them.
Did Franklin Roosevelt lie his way into World War II? Did he intentionally tell the public he was against the war while secretly plotting to enter it all along? The case that he did is credibly made by William Henry Chamberlin. And whether we agree with the argument or not, the fact that this is a serious possibility is nothing short of astonishing.
And did Roosevelt and George Marshall know about the planned attack on Pearl Harbor in time to mount a defense against it? Arguably, they did. If so, their show of surprise was another big lie.
Then there was Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The idea that North Vietnam would “without provocation” attack an American naval vessel (thereby inviting U.S. retaliation) should have been seen as self-evidently ludicrous. And of course, it wasn’t true. But Congress bought it hook line and sinker and authorized the Vietnam War. Before we left, more than 3 million people were killed, including 58,220 Americans. An untold number of others were injured and scarred for life.
And let’s not forget the war in Iraq. Did the Bush administration know – before we ever went in – that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? (That was the publicly-stated rationale for the war.) Ari Fleischer says “no.” Dylan Matthews says “yes.” The fact that this question is even open to debate is a sad commentary on the Bush presidency.
Now back to Trump.
In the mainstream media, he has been repeatedly called racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, xenophobic, and much more. Yet if words have any meaning at all, these charges are self-evidently false.
- You can’t be anti-Semitic and at the same time be the best friend Israel ever had among U.S. presidents.
- You can’t be homophobic and at the same time be the first prominent Republican politician to approve of gay marriage.
- You can’t be misogynistic and at the same time appoint women to the highest levels of authority in government.
- You can’t be racist and at the same time champion programs to liberate black Americans from bad schools, bad housing and bad environmental dangers – liberation that is resisted by Democrats who populate the “liberal plantation.”
- You can’t be xenophobic and at the same time marry an immigrant wife.
You may disagree with the president’s policies. That’s fair game. But the blanket accusations listed above are just not true. They don’t even come close to being true. Yet they continue to be repeated again and again -- on CNN, on MSNBC, on the pages of The New York Times and in other mainstream media outlets.
What makes these attacks especially dishonest is that Trump has a long history of being socially liberal.
For most of the 20th century, Palm Beach, Florida, had a reputation of being one of the most prejudiced places in the country. Its hotels and clubs were blatantly racist and anti-Semitic. When Donald Trump created Mar-a-Lago, he challenged the town establishment and opened his facility to all comers.
How many Democrats do you know who went to Palm Beach and challenged its leaders over anti-Semitism and racism?
Now we come to the worst lies of all. Donald Trump was said to be guilty of “treason.” A “traitor” to his country. An “agent of a foreign power.” These claims, without any justification whatsoever, were made by the former head of the CIA. They were repeated in news stories in The New York Times. They were asserted as fact in editorial after editorial.
CNN and MSNBC were only too happy to provide a forum for these claims, and its own commentators expressed the desire to see Donald Trump in prison.
So, I agree with Prof. Shiller. We are in danger of serious cultural change. He’s just focused on the wrong target.