Donald Trump Is A Congenital Liar, But Will That Matter To Voters?
Donald Trump lies with the ease that the rest of us tie our shoes. Will that fact have an impact on voters?
President Trump recently passed his 928th day in office, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker team marked the occasion by updating their running account of the President’s lies since taking office in January 2017. Needless to say, they found once again that the number of lies this President has told has reached astoundingly high levels. By their count, the number is now up to more than 12,000 lies since January 20, 2017:
President Trump’s proclivity for spouting exaggerated numbers, unwarranted boasts and outright falsehoods has continued at a remarkable pace. As of Aug. 5, his 928th day in office, he had made 12,019 false or misleading claims, according to the Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement the president has uttered.
Trump crossed the 10,000 mark on April 26, and he has been averaging about 20 fishy claims a day since then. From the start of his presidency, he has averaged about 13 such claims a day.
About one-fifth of these claims are about immigration, his signature issue — a percentage that has grown since the government shut down over funding for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, his most repeated claim — 190 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete barrier he envisioned, so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.”
False or misleading claims about trade, the economy and the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign each account for about 10 percent of the total. Claims on those subjects are also among his most repeated.
Trump has falsely claimed 186 times that the U.S. economy today is the best in history. He began making this claim in June 2018, and it quickly became one of his favorites. The president can certainly brag about the state of the economy, but he runs into trouble when he repeatedly makes a play for the history books. By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton — or Ulysses S. Grant. Moreover, the economy is beginning to hit the head winds caused by the president’s trade wars.
On 166 occasions, he has claimed the United States has “lost” money on trade deficits. This reflects a basic misunderstanding of economics. Countries do not “lose” money on trade deficits. A trade deficit simply means that people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country. Trade deficits are also affected by macroeconomic factors, such as currencies, economic growth, and savings and investment rates.
Trump has falsely said 162 times that he passed the biggest tax cut in history. Even before his tax cut was crafted, he promised that it would be the biggest in U.S. history — bigger than Ronald Reagan’s in 1981. Reagan’s tax cut amounted to 2.9 percent of the gross domestic product, and none of the proposals under consideration came close to that level.
Yet Trump persisted in this fiction even when the tax cut was eventually crafted to be the equivalent of 0.9 percent of GDP, making it the eighth-largest tax cut in 100 years. This continues to be an all-purpose applause line at the president’s rallies.
On the good side, it appears that Trump’s lies aren’t passing the smell test with most Americans:
Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans believe many of his most-common false statements, according to a Washington Post Fact Checker poll published in December. Only among a pool of strong Trump approvers — about 1 in 6 adults in the survey — did large majorities accept several, although not all, of his falsehoods as true.
This is all becoming part of a recurring theme, of course. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by where, if the President speaks publicly or sends a message out via Twitter, he does not tell a lie, mislead, or simply invent things out of whole cloth. In many cases, of course, these lies are duplicative in the sense that they are things he has lied about before, and which he returns to on a regular basis even when it’s pointed out just how wrong he is.
Indeed, at times it seems like pointing out that a lie is a lie only causes the President and his supporters to double down and keep repeating the falsehoods time and time again until they become articles of faith on the right no matter how untrue they are. This is especially true with regard to many of the accusations he has made about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Every now and then, though, something new enters his repertoire and, if he thinks that it works it gets added to the long and growing list of Presidential lies that, sadly, we all seem to have become all too used to over the past two years.
Based on the Post’s numbers as of August 5th, the President is averaging roughly 12.95 lies per day over the 928 days that the Post based its numbers on. If he maintains this average, he will have told an astounding 18,033 lies for the duration of his first term in office. If he maintains this average over the course of two terms, then he will have told just over 37,866 lies over the course of an eight-year Presidency. IAs has been the case each time the Post fact-checkers have updated these numbers, this represents a fairly significant increase over where he stood the last time we looked at these numbers in March, in April when James Joyner did the same as Trump passed 10,000 lies, and again in June when the last set of numbers was released. As I said back then while I’m as cynical as the next person when it comes to the tendency of politicians to lie, this is an extraordinary number of lies coming from one person and it’s arguably consistent with the type of person who either does not believe he’s obligated to tell the truth or that he is simply so used to lying that it comes as easily to him as putting on a pair of shoes.
Indeed, each time we’ve looked at these numbers Trump’s average number of lies per day has increased, in some cases significantly. Some of the most significant increases took place while he was campaigning for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Given that, we can assume that the pace will pick up as we get deeper and deeper into the 2020 re-election campaign. Philip Bump speculates that the total number of lies will be somewhere near 22,000 or 23,000 by Election Day on November 3rd, 2020, which would make for an average of between 15.9 and 16.6 lies per day. Personally, I think it will be even higher than that since Trump seems to pick up the pace of his lying and misrepresentation the more he is acting in campaign mode and that we’ll be closer to 25,000 by November 2020.
In his April post, James questioned whether the method that the Post is using here is a good or fair reflection of the extent of the problem here, pointing out, fairly, that many of the instances counted are ones where the President has made the same false claim on multiple occasions. As I noted in a comment at the time, I think this kind of “double counting” is entirely fair:
1. I would argue it does make sense to count multiple instances of the same lie as a new lie, especially when the media has repeatedly called Trump out on that lie. It shows the brazenness of his fabrication and reveals something important about his personality.
2. Obviously, some lies are bigger than others, but with Trump the fact that it’s a constant drumbeat of lies that are reinforced by his staff and by his supporters [argues in favor of the idea that] even the small ones important.
3. If Trump keeps this pace of lying up, which is likely, he will have told more than 17,600 lies in his first term alone. If he keeps it up through a second term that total will come to more than 34,000. Personally, I expect that pace of lying will continue and most likely accelerate as Democrats continue their investigations and as we get closer to the 2020 election.
The fact that Trump is a liar is hardly a surprise,of course. Even before he became a candidate for President, he had a habit of making things up out of whole cloth about himself, his businesses, and the people that opposed him. Sometimes, the media would point these things out but usually they just led it slide because, well, Trump was a celebrity and he made for what the news business calls “good copy.” Additionally, as long as he ws just some real estate developer in New York City pretending to be far more important and successful than he actually was he wasn’t really a threat to anyone. Indeed, I can say for a fact that most of the media coverage Trump got, especially from the New York City media that knew him so well, was tongue in cheek combined with some not-so-subtle mockery.
Once he became a candidate for office, though, the lying became more serious and more prevalent. In June 2016, for example, Politifact found that nearly 80% of the claims that candidate Trump had made on the campaign trail since entering the race the year before had been a lie of some form or another. That trend continued for the balance of the campaign, including even during Trump’s Presidential debates with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. While there were several points during those debates that either one of the moderators or Clinton herself called these lies out, their sheer number was almost impossible for any one person to keep track of without losing their mind. More importantly, pointing out the fact that he was lying clearly didn’t matter to his supporters. Indeed, the more Trump lied the more these people loved him, mostly because he was telling them what they wanted to hear.
This trend continued after the election, of course, and Trump wasn’t even in office for twenty-four hours before he told the first of his many lies regarding the size of his Inauguration Day crowd. From that point forward, the trend was set and we’re now at the point where I’m sure that Glenn Kessler and the rest of the fact checkers at the Post and other similar outfits are glad to have access to a computer that can keep track of the numbers for them. Pretty soon, though, they may need to turn to Watson to help them keep track, especially if Trump manages to get re-elected.
The question that hangs over all of this. Does anyone care that we have a President who is a congenital liar to the point where one has to openly wonder whether he is consciously doing it or whether he living in a fantasy world where he only believes what he’s saying? If the first is true, then he would clearly be suffering from what most psychologists would clearly consider a personality disorder. If it’s the second, then the same would be true except it would be a more serious problem. Either way, we’re clearly dealing with a man who never should have been elected and who should not be President.
In response to that question, I suppose the only answer is that it depends on who you’re talking about.
For those of us who already oppose Trump, of course, the lying is basically baked in the cake at this point. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to keep pointing out that the President is a congenital liar. It does mean, however, that pointing this out isn’t going to impact how we vote and it isn’t going to affect our opinion of the man.
If you’re talking about the average Trump supporter, or the average Republican voter for that matter, then it’s clear that those people clearly don’t care. Notwithstanding the lies, the racism, and the incompetence, these people remain loyal to Trump at levels unseen for most of the President’s Republican predecessors. Even President Reagan had doubters inside his own party during both the 1980 and 1984 election, and people inside his party who were willing to stand up and criticize Administration action and policies they disagreed. That isn’t true of the GOP under Trump, where his job approval ratings hover near 90% and the party itself has become the party of Trump fanatics, sycophants, sellouts, and cowards who are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid of the President and afraid of losing their jobs.
The last group of voters are the ones to raise the question about. Many of these are people who voted for Trump in 2016 because they were sick of the hypocrisy of the establishment, or because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton any more than they liked Trump. They’re also in many cases people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 who could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat again if that party chooses the right nominee. Will these people be influenced by the fact that this President has essentially spent an inordinate amount of time since becoming a candidate lying to them and to the nation? I suppose we’ll find out on Election Night.