Lying Donald Trump’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
It may well be that the 25th Amendment, not the impeachment clause, will be his undoing.
Joe Scarborough has pithily summed up the effects of yesterday’s testimony by FBI Director Jim Comey dismissing President Trump’s repeated bizarre claims that the Obama administration “tapped” his phones:
I had said Friday was the worst day of Donald Trump’s presidency. I was wrong. It is today.
David Leonhardt is even sharper in this lede:
The ninth week of Donald Trump’s presidency began with the F.B.I. director calling him a liar.
The director, the very complicated James Comey, didn’t use the L-word in his congressional testimony Monday. Comey serves at the pleasure of the president, after all. But his meaning was clear as could be. Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones, and Comey explained there is “no information that supports” the claim.
I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).
But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about — among many other things — Obama’s birthplace, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.
He tells so many untruths that it’s time to leave behind the textual parsing over which are unwitting and which are deliberate — as well as the condescending notion that most of Trump’s supporters enjoy his lies.
Trump sets out to deceive people. As he has put it, “I play to people’s fantasies.”
Caveat emptor: When Donald Trump says something happened, it should not change anyone’s estimation of whether the event actually happened. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. His claim doesn’t change the odds.
Which brings us to Russia.
Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was an attack on the United States. It’s the kind of national-security matter that a president and members of Congress swear to treat with utmost seriousness when they take the oath of office. Yet now it has become the subject of an escalating series of lies by the president and the people who work for him.
Leonhardt’s colleagues, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, are on the other side of the opinion wall and thus bound by tighter constraints. That makes the vociferousness of their report even more damning:
President Trump began Monday as he has started so many other presidential mornings — by unleashing a blistering Twitter attack on critics who suggested his 2016 campaign colluded with the Russians.
By the afternoon the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, had systematically demolished his arguments in a remarkable public takedown of a sitting president. Even a close ally of Mr. Trump, Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, conceded that “a gray cloud” of suspicion now hung over the White House by the end of the day’s hearings.
The testimony of Mr. Comey and that of Adm. Michael S. Rogers, his National Security Agency counterpart, will most likely enervate and distract Mr. Trump’s administration for weeks, if not longer, overshadowing good news, like the impressive debut of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nominee, on the first day of his confirmation hearings Monday.
But it’s the obsessiveness and ferocity of Mr. Trump’s pushback against the Russian allegations, often untethered from fact or tact, that is making an uncertain situation worse.
Thus far, the only one to lose a job over any of this is Fox News bloviator Andrew Napolitano. He surely won’t be the last.
Most Congressional Republicans are standing by Trump and company at the moment, gamely trying to make the focus of yesterday’s hearings the press leaks that have exposed the Russia connections rather than the connections themselves. That gambit will fail.
I haven’t the slightest idea how much collusion between Trump’s campaign staff and the Russian government took place, how high up it went, or the extent to which it impacted the election. It’s quite possible we’ll never know. And I’d judge it probable that there won’t be enough evidence to convince a majority-Republican House to impeach the president.
The bigger issue may well be the one Leonhardt has highlighted: the president’s constant lies about matters big and small. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans argued that Al Gore was unfit for the office because of his penchant for serial exaggeration about his role in trivial matters. Rather clearly, Trump’s dishonesty is orders of magnitude worse.
Moreover, given the fact that most of the lies are not only easily debunked but serve no obvious strategic purpose, it’s become increasingly reasonable to wonder about the president’s mental health. It may well be that the 25th Amendment, not the impeachment clause, will be his undoing. In both cases, the primary obstacle is the fecklessness of those with the power to act.