Let’s Face It, Donald Trump Is A Pathological Liar

Donald Trump has been in office just over 600 days, and he's proven beyond any doubt that he doesn't care if what he says is the truth or not.

Last week, the President marked his 600th day in office, but the fact checkers at The Washington Post noted that he had also crossed another threshold. By their count, he’s told more than 5,000 lies since taking office in late January 2017:

On Sept. 7, President Trump woke up in Billings, Mont., flew to Fargo, N.D., visited Sioux Falls, S.D., and eventually returned to Washington. He spoke to reporters on Air Force One, held a pair of fundraisers and was interviewed by three local reporters.

In that single day, he publicly made 125 false or misleading statements — in a period of time that totaled only about 120 minutes. It was a new single-day high.

The day before, the president made 74 false or misleading claims, many at a campaign rally in Montana. An anonymous op-ed article by a senior administration official had just been published in the New York Times, and news circulated about journalist Bob Woodward’s insider account of Trump’s presidency.

Trump’s tsunami of untruths helped push the count in The Fact Checker’s database past 5,000 on the 601st day of his presidency. That’s an average of 8.3 Trumpian claims a day, but in the past nine days — since our last update — the president has averaged 32 claims a day.

When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. He passed the 2,000 mark on Jan. 10 — eight months ago.

Fittingly, the 5,000th claim was a tweet about the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “Russian ‘collusion’ was just an excuse by the Democrats for having lost the Election!”

On nearly 140 occasions, the president has falsely claimed that the Russia investigation was made up or a hoax. But the information on Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election was developed by the intelligence community and published in a declassified report, in which the agencies said they had “high confidence” it was correct.

One of his campaign aides has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts overseas, including one connection who disclosed that the Russians had Democratic Party emails. The president’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman met at Trump Tower in June 2016 with someone they thought was a representative of the Russian government and who had promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — and then tried to cover up that fact.

(…)

Almost one-third of Trump’s claims — 1,573 — in The Fact Checker’s database relate to economic issues, trade deals or jobs. He frequently takes credit for jobs created before he became president or company decisions with which he had no role. He cites his “incredible success” in terms of job growth, even though annual job growth under his presidency has been slower than the last five years of President Barack Obama’s tenure. Almost 50 times, Trump has claimed that the economy today is the “greatest” in U.S. history, an absurd statement not backed up by data.

In the wake of the Woodward book, Trump resurrected a claim that dates from his first 100 days in office — that he has accomplished more than any other president in history in the same period of time. He made that statement six times in four days after news reports about the Woodward book.

Besides the tax bill, Trump has signed few noteworthy pieces of legislation, in contrast with the whirlwind of major bills passed in the first two years of the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson or Obama. As of his 600th day, Trump had signed about the same number of bills as Obama and George W. Bush but is behind every other president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to a calculation by Joshua Tauberer of GovTrack. He noted that Trump is just behind Obama in terms of the number of pages, indicating that much of the legislation he has signed has been about increasing government spending.

At the rate of 8.2 lies per day, which is the average that Trump has run over the 602 days that the Post’s latest update covers, this would mean that the President would have told an extraordinary number of provable lies over the course of his Presidency. If he were to maintain this average over the course of his first term, for example, the President will have told nearly 12,000 lies in just four years in office. If this average were maintained over the course of eight years, it would mean nearly 24,000 lies between January 20th, 2017 and January 20th, 2025. While I’m as cynical as the next person when it comes to the tendency of politicians tell the truth, 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 is obliged 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.

This latest update should come as no surprise. Not longer after the Republican National Convention, 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. 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.

Given the extent to which he makes things up on the fly, whether it’s during one of his rallies, during an interview, or on Twitter, it’s hardly surprising that the President has faired so badly with the fact-checkers. From the start of his campaign, he’s made false and easily disproven claims about Mexicans and crime, about immigrants in general, about Muslims, and about policy issues ranging from international trade to foreign policy to history. Indeed, it can truly be said there are few politicians in American history who have been quite as skilled as Donald Trump when it comes to being able to lie so easily and so frequently. Additionally, the ease with which he does so makes it seem as though he believes what he’s saying, or that he simply doesn’t care if it’s true or not. It’s a skill he honed during the time he was considered a “celebrity” before becoming a Presidential candidate. Back then, of course, even his most obviously exaggerated claims about his own business success would be slavishly repeated by the media rather investigated to see if they were actually true. If Trump learned from that experience is that it largely did not matter if the claims he made were true or not. For the most part, the people reporting the “news” about Trump back then were not inclined to check just how much of what he said was true. Indeed, given the fact that it was his status as an ostentatious celebrity that caused the public to tune in or buy newspapers and magazines when they covered him, it was not in their interest to deflate him, but rather to build him up since the relationship between celebrities and the media that covers them is largely a symbiotic one where the media benefits by inflating the ego of the celebrity, and the celebrity benefits by letting the media cover him or her.

From these years, Trump no doubt learned the lesson that making things up didn’t really matter because the media wasn’t going to check anyway, and he has carried that lesson over to his political career. Things are a bit different when it comes to political reporters, of course, but the fact that Trump was, from the beginning such a high ratings draw for all the cable news outlets means that they were much less inclined to challenge his factual assertions lest he decide to issue one of the several “boycotts” that he’s engaged in over the course of the campaign. Those media outlets that have challenged him on the facts, such as The Des Moines Register, The Washington Post, and even Fox News Channel have found themselves subjected to one of Trump’s mercurial reprisal efforts.

Of course, the extent to which he is able to lie so brazenly has raised several questions about Trump’s psychology and mental state. I am not enough an expert in that field to make any specific judgments about Trump himself except to note that the lying, along with other aspects of his personality do not exactly speak very highly to the kind of person Donald Trump is at the core. In that regard, several words have been tossed around, including narcissist and many others. In the end, though, it seems fairly clear that liar fits just as well as anything else.

Tom Toles, meanwhile, suggests it’s time to stop counting Trump’s lies:

Counting up and/or refuting President Trump’s lies is an exercise with diminishing returns. It is like adding additional littering citations on top of a garbage landfill. Everybody knows now that Trump’s statements are more likely to be untrue than true. It’s time to start addressing the implications of that.

Counting up lies is starting to feel more like a parlor game than a response to a cancer. A culture of lies is being introduced and normalized in the government of the United States, and it is that culture that needs to be understood. Just like with [Alex] Jones, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to try to fact-check and refute every new crazy theory that he introduces. Identifying him as what he is, a conspiracy theorist, gets to the heart of the problem. That Trump is a habitual liar is the heart of the problem of his communication to the American people.

But, you might say, Alex Jones isn’t president of the United States. And I would say even MORE reason to identify Trump for what he is. Reporting his statements without adding “compulsive liar” gives those statements a veneer of plausibility and respectability that they absolutely do not deserve.

Yes, Donald Trump, compulsive liar, is president of the United States. It is a circumstance you don’t want to contribute to prolonging

Toles has a point here. Counting up the President’s lies and misstatements can become something of a parlor game and there’s a danger that people become immune to the generalized truth that this President is a compulsive, habitual, and indeed pathological liar. That being said, keeping track of the number in the manner that Glenn Kessler and his colleagues are doing does serve the useful purpose of providing something that people can cite to back up the claims that are made against the President. That won’t matter to his die-hard supporters, of course, but I’d like to think that we still live in a world where the truth matters. If we give up on that idea, then it means that Trump and his supporters have won and that we’ve crossed the Rubicon into a world where truth is relative and facts don’t matter. If that happens, we may as well just give up because the battle will have been lost.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    All politicians stretch the truth, shade the truth, selectively quote the truth, obfuscate, and every now and again when nothing else will work, probably knowingly lie. Trump? He inhabits an alternate reality that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one we live in.

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  2. Ratufa says:

    By their count, he’s told more than 5,000 lies since taking office.

    I thought he might be a liar after he told his four thousandth lie. This just confirms it.

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    Pathological liar is fine but BS artist is the more accurate term. A liar cares about the truth and will use it strategically. A BS artist just says whatever pops into his head and if it happens to be true, great.

    And agreeing with Ozark. There’s a huge difference between the way politicians usually lie and what Trump does. Trump has always been that way but the way the GOP/Fox have created an alternative reality — Obama’s apology tour, Benghzai conspiracy theories, etc. — set the stage for him.

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  4. CSK says:

    I think the country has pretty much long since divided itself into those who believe every word Trump says, because the media (except for the Gateway Pundit, the Conservative Treehouse, and a couple of other crackpot paranoid semi-literate blogspots) lie about him, and the rest of us who have always understood that Trump doesn’t have even a tenuous relationship with the truth.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    there’s a danger that people become immune to the generalized truth that this President is a compulsive, habitual, and indeed pathological liar.

    The real danger is that he believes the nonsense he spews, and it becomes basis for actual policy.

  6. dennis says:

    Water is wet. And hurricanes are TREMENDOUSLY wet.

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  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    As they say: “Feature, not bug”.

    The loyal core look at what he does and if it pisses off the libtards, then Trump has accomplished their goals. The more disruption in government, the greater their success, the stronger their support for him.

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  8. Kylopod says:

    I think distorting the truth is in some ways part of a politician’s job–or at least something they all do to one degree or another. And over the years I have used the term “habitual liar” or “pathological liar” to describe various politicians. What’s stunning about Trump is how he brings new meaning to those phrases. Even with the most flagrantly dishonest politicians, there’s almost always a clear rationale for their deceptions, and furthermore, they’re usually at least making some effort to sound convincing, to the point that they try whenever possible to stick to statements that may be technically accurate even if misleading. (A classic example is Bush’s statement “The enemy attacked us” when asked to justify the Iraq invasion at one of the 2004 presidential debates. He didn’t state outright that Saddam was involved in 9/11, but that’s clearly what he was trying to imply. Trump in the same situation would probably just up and claim Saddam directly gave the order that brought down the towers. And right-wing media would be defending and amplifying the claim.) Trump lies even when he has no reason to do so other than assuaging his ridiculous, insatiable ego (see: inauguration size), and furthermore, he seems to go out of his way to make his lies as outlandish and cartoonish as possible. Unlike the usual vaguely misleading, lawyerly remarks from conventional politicians, Trump’s lies are specific: he’ll just pull some completely made-up stat out of his enormous tuches, even one that can be easily disproven with a quick Google search. That’s why he gives new meaning to the term “pathological liar”: it really is pathological, like a kleptomaniac compared to an ordinary thief. He literally can’t help himself.

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  9. dazedandconfused says:

    “It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

  10. dazedandconfused says:

    “It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

  11. Jen says:

    OT: But what is the running tally of members of this administration under investigation?

  12. Yank says:

    I think distorting the truth is in some ways part of a politician’s job–or at least something they all do to one degree or another. And over the years I have used the term “habitual liar” or “pathological liar” to describe various politicians.

    I tend to call politicians who do this “bullshitters”. Honestly, you have to be a good bullshitter to be a good politician. It was one of Hillary’s biggest flaws. She can’t BS her way out of jams like her husband could.

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  13. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    Even with the most flagrantly dishonest politicians, there’s almost always a clear rationale for their deceptions, and furthermore, they’re usually at least making some effort to sound convincing, to the point that they try whenever possible to stick to statements that may be technically accurate even if misleading.

    Most politicians, for example, will exaggerate their achievements and downplay their failures. El Cheeto Loco invents achievements, exaggerates routine matters, and maintains that any claim of failure on his part is a lie.

    The bad part is he believes all this. The worst part is his supporters believe him.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    I always like to point out that WAPO isn’t counting each time he lies. They’re counting new, unique lies. In between he’s eagerly repeating the old lies. If he’s up to 32 new lies a day, plus repeats of old lies, he must be saying almost nothing that isn’t a lie. You’d think just by accident he’d say more true stuff.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod:

    That’s why he gives new meaning to the term “pathological liar”: it really is pathological, like a kleptomaniac compared to an ordinary thief. He literally can’t help himself.

    That is not a new meaning, it is what pathological liars do. My ex is one and I can tell you from experience she is all but incapable of telling a simple truth. If you asked her if she was a woman, she could just say yes. Instead she would tell you that not only is she a woman, she is the bestest woman ever, that as a mother she outshines all other mothers before her that as a wife she has left a trail of sorrowful men in her wake who didn’t know how good they had it. etc etc etc.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @One American: We already have.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    That is not a new meaning, it is what pathological liars do.

    But contrary to the stereotype, it’s not something I’ve really seen in politics–not to this degree. For example, in 2012 Mitt Romney lied profligately and shamelessly. He lied about his past, lied about his positions, lied about his own campaign platform, lied about Obama. It was dizzying to keep track of all his lies, even if the mainstream media largely ignored them. But at least they were generally restricted to matters of policy. He didn’t go around exaggerating the size of his…crowds. He was nothing if not coldly rational and calculating. He was (and still is) the essence of a politician who will say anything to get elected–which makes him extremely ruthless and unprincipled but not reckless or uncontrolled. That is a form of pathological dishonesty in my book, but it’s of a different nature from what we see with Trump.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @One American: Nah, you’ll never see who’s lying. You’ll be all “What’s she got? It’s just her word and this lying doctored videotape. You call that evidence?”

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  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: Googling Pathological we get this:

    compulsive; obsessive.
    “a pathological gambler”
    synonyms: compulsive, obsessive, inveterate, habitual, persistent, chronic, hardened, confirmed
    “a pathological liar”

    The thing that makes one a pathological liar is the fact that they are incapable of telling a simple truth. The fact that you’ve never come across one in politics before trump is due solely to the fact that before trump every one thought republican voters still cared about the truth at some level. Turns out they like to be lied to.

    Whocouldaknowed?

  20. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The fact that you’ve never come across one in politics before trump is due solely to the fact that before trump every one thought republican voters still cared about the truth at some level.

    I never made any such assumption. What politicians care about is getting elected, and if that requires lying, so be it. And long before Trump I was perfectly aware that a lot of voters are more than willing to be lied to.

    Trump’s unique contribution is simply the extent to which his lying serves no rational purpose. He just can’t help himself. Just as a kleptomaniac has a compulsion to steal even when it gives them no benefit, Trump has a compulsion to lie even when it doesn’t help him. That doesn’t mean ordinary politicians necessarily care about truth any more than ordinary thieves care about respecting property; it just means their behavior is easier to explain.