Horowitz: President Trump’s Falsehoods Mount Up
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
In past administrations, when the president said something that turned out to be untrue, corrections were often issued by staff members. In the Trump Administration, officials ranging from the vice-president to cabinet members to communications staffers twist themselves into pretzels and undermine their own credibility, attempting to justify or explain away the president’s constant falsehoods. One recent example was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoing the president and insisting there was there was no family separation policy at the border, when there plainly was and continues to be. In fact, it's spelled out in Administration documents.
Perhaps the most famous justification of the Trump Administration’s casual relationship with the truth was Kellyanne Conway’s embarrassing attempt to defend Sean Spicer’s false claims made at the behest of the president about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.”
In an interview with Vox, Robert Dallek, a noted presidential biographer, commented on the unprecedented nature of Trump’s untruthfulness and its corrosive consequences. “Well, our system depends upon something like a consensus, something like majority rule. But now we have a president who outright lies about ... everything. He lies about the number of votes he received, about the size of his inauguration crowd, about his own achievements, about Muslims cheering in the streets after 9/11, and so on. He lies about basic observable facts. I think the cumulative effect of all this lying is to make people deeply cynical about our entire system, and that’s very corrupting.”
While Dallek’s pessimistic view of the impact of Trump’s dishonesty is well-founded, the good news is that most Americans see through the lies and still believe it is essential to establish commonly held truths. Six -out-of-10 Americans say that it is very important that people agree on basic facts, even if they disagree on policies and this opinion cuts across party lines, according to a Pew Research Center Poll.. People recognize that our current politics and government fall far short of living up to this value. Only 1-in-3 voters say that ‘people agreeing on basic facts, even if they disagree on politics’ describes this country well today.
On this matter, we still stand with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous observation; “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,”. Americans intuitively recognize that without an agreement on the basic facts of any particular issue or situation, reasoned and civil debate with the goal of achieving principled compromise, and common ground that is at the core of healthy political discourse becomes difficult to impossible.
One unintended consequence of President Trump’s blatant disregard for the truth, maybe the restoration of facts, reason, and science to the center of our political debates. The failures of the Trump presidency to date provide an instructive case study for what happens when there is a concerted effort to make truth disappear. Let’s hope future presidents are taking careful notes.
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