Trump’s in­her­ent dis­hon­esty

Our view: Birther episode just amoral dodge by a can­di­date who lies in­ces­santly

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

The line be­tween real-life pol­i­tics and comic par­ody is blur­ring all the time, and surely no event un­der­scores this quite as well as Don­ald Trump’s re­cent news con­fer­ence in which he ad­mit­ted that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Had some new ev­i­dence pre­sented it­self or, con­versely, did the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee ex­press shame and re­morse for his years of cam­paign­ing to dele­git­imize the na­tion’s first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent?

Nope. Clearly, he and his cam­paign staff had sim­ply re­al­ized that claim­ing Mr. Obama is a na­tive African is no longer a mes­sage that works for Mr. Trump po­lit­i­cally as he tries to soften his racist im­age. And rather than leave it at that, the can­di­date made yet an­other patently false state­ment — that Hil­lary Clin­ton and her sup­port­ers were re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing the ru­mor in the first place.

Fact-check­ers de­bunked this Clin­ton con­nec­tion in about a nanosec­ond. (That it’s been de­bunked be­fore made the task rel­a­tively easy.) But don’t ex­pect Mr. Trump to ex­press re­morse about that lie ei­ther — or those from sur­ro­gates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who went on na­tional tele­vi­sion Sun­day to make the claim that the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee hadn’t raised the birther is­sue in five years. Again, his claim is wrong, wrong, wrong and eas­ily proven so.

This has be­come such a pat­tern with Mr. Trump — to make out­ra­geous claims and state­ments that go far be­yond the usual realm of “po­lit­i­cal spin” and hew­more­closely to ei­ther Com­mu­nist Party pro­pa­ganda (“The Tianan­men Square mas­sacre never hap­pened,” as the Chi­nese govern­ment likes to say) or Onion par­ody (“Pneu­mo­nia virus ter­ri­fied af­ter re­al­iz­ing what Clin­tons ca­pa­ble of”) — that tra­di­tional jour­nal­ists seem un­able to give it proper con­text. Ma­jor can­di­dates for of­fice sim­ply don’t lie as boldly or out­ra­geously as the re­al­ity-TV star does on a daily ba­sis.

The re­sult is that vot­ers are treated to a false equiv­a­lency — that Ms. Clin­ton and Mr. Trump are sim­ply out in the rough-and­tum­ble world of cam­paign­ing, and what both say must be taken with a grain of salt. Granted, there is plenty of the tra­di­tional spin from the Clin­ton cam­paign, but look at the re­cent cough-gate de­ba­cle. Ms. Clin­ton been crit­i­cized on this page and else­where for not pub­licly re­veal­ing her bout with pneu­mo­nia for a cou­ple of days. Mr. Trump re­ceived less crit­i­cism for re­cently sug­gest­ing that Ms. Clin­ton’s Se­cret Ser­vice team lay down their firearms and “see what hap­pens to her.” And this wasn’t even the first time that he’s openly ex­pressed in­ter­est in see­ing the for­mer first lady put in the line of fire.

This may be why polls show Ms. Clin­ton trails Mr. Trump in the area of trust­wor­thi­ness, as in a re­cent CNN sur­vey sug­gest­ing he has an edge of 50 per­cent to 35 per­cent when vot­ers are asked, “Who is most hon­est and trust­wor­thy?” This is lu­di­crous on its face. For all the brouhaha stirred over the Beng­hazi at­tacks or Ms. Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server, she’s re­peat­edly been found not guilty of mis­con­duct. Even the al­leged in­con­sis­ten­cies in her tes­ti­mony are, at worst, de­bat­able (com­ing down, for ex­am­ple, to ex­actly what it means­for a doc­u­ment to be marked clas­si­fied). Both the mag­ni­tude and the fre­quency of Mr. Trump’s lies are off the charts. No one wins Poli­tiFact’s “Pants on Fire!” rat­ing more con­sis­tently. It’s not even close.

What’s par­tic­u­larly dis­cour­ag­ing about the birther episode is that Mr. Trump’s lie is cer­tain to live on while the cor­rec­tion will go largely un­no­ticed. Mr. Trump is writ­ing a new po­lit­i­cal play­book (or per­haps re­vis­ing an old one) that sug­gests it’s bet­ter to lie large, of­ten and un­apolo­get­i­cally then ever ad­mit you are wrong. Onepoll con­ducted ear­lier this year found that nearly two-thirds of Trump sup­port­ers be­lieve Mr. Obama was born out­side the United States.

This might work on “The Ap­pren­tice” and other se­lec­tively staged re­al­ity shows, but rarely in mod­ern times have Amer­i­can na­tional pol­i­tics seemed more de­based and un­teth­ered by the facts. Even if Mr. Trump loses, the coun­try is go­ing to be worse for this ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly if it em­bold­ens fu­ture can­di­dates to pre­var­i­cate early, of­ten and re­lent­lessly rather than en­gage in ac­tual de­bates of sub­stance where re­al­ity is re­garded as re­al­ity.

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