Trump’s re­lent­less as­sault on the truth

Cecil Whig - - OPINON - Eu­gene Robin­son

— 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, who waf­fle or dis­sem­ble, who em­pha­size some facts while omit­ting oth­ers. 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. Per­haps he hopes the me­dia and the na­tion will be­come numb to his con­stant ly­ing. We must not.

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

WASH­ING­TON

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 be­cause of bi­par­ti­san pres­sure fol­low­ing the Ed­ward Snow­den rev­e­la­tions.

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, in­clud­ing FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, 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 some- thing 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 of the United States is some­how dis­loyal. There is no other way to read “he gets it bet­ter than any­body un­der­stands.”

Trump claims that Hil­lary Clin­ton, the all-butcer­tain Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, “wants to take away Amer­i­cans’ guns, and then ad­mit the very peo­ple who want to slaugh­ter us.” Clin­ton has made clear that she doesn’t want to take any­one’s guns away; nor does she want to elim­i­nate the Sec­ond Amend­ment, as Trump also claims. And the idea that Clin­ton ac­tu­ally wants to ad­mit would-be slaugh­ter­ers is grotesque.

I write not to de­fend Obama and Clin­ton, who can speak for them­selves — and have done so. 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. Trump presents a novel chal­lenge for both the me­dia and the vot­ing pub­lic. There is no play­book for eval­u­at­ing a can­di­date who so con­stantly says things that ob­jec­tively are not true.

All of the above ex­am­ples come from just five days’ worth of Trump’s lies, from Sun­day to Thurs­day of this week. By the time you read this, surely there will have been more.

How are we in the me­dia sup­posed to cover such a man? The tra­di­tional ap­proach, which seeks fair­ness through non-judg­men­tal bal­ance, seems in­ad­e­quate. It does not seem fair to write “Trump claimed the sky is ma­roon while Clin­ton claimed it is blue” with­out not­ing that the sky is, in fact, blue. It does not seem fair to even present this as a “ques­tion” wor­thy of de­bate, as if hon­est peo­ple could dis­agree. One as­ser­tion is ob­jec­tively false and one ob­jec­tively true.

It goes against all jour­nal­is­tic in­stinct to write in a news story, as The Wash­ing­ton Post did Mon­day, that Trump’s na­tional secu- rity 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’s lies also present a chal­lenge for vot­ers. The nor­mal as­sump­tion is that politi­cians will bend the truth to fit their ide­ol­ogy — not that they will in­vent fake “truth” out of whole cloth. Trump is not just an un­ortho­dox can­di­date. He is an in­vet­er­ate liar — maybe patho­log­i­cal, maybe pur­pose­ful. He doesn’t dis­tort facts, he makes them up.

Trump has a right to his anger, his xeno­pho­bia and his big­otry. He also has a right to lie — but we all have a duty to call him on it.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

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