A new age of lies?

A new age of lies?
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As a careful reader of the Washington Post's prodigious fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, I expected to gloss over his 335-page book, “Donald Trump and his assault on Truth.” That's not possible. We forget too much.

The book and the fact-checker found that in the president's first three years, he told 16,241 falsehoods, many demonstrable lies. It's approaching 20,000 now. Some are petty, others big and blatant.

How many remember Trump claiming he deserved the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize given to the Prime Minister Ethiopia for heading off a border war with Eriterea? “I saved a country," Trump claimed. Actually, he wasn't involved at all. The U.S. is helping Ethiopia and Egypt on a hydropower dam.

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No harm no foul, Trump supporters would respond. Okay, how about the dozens of misstatements that Team Trump — mostly the president — made to the special counsel investigating Russia's interference with the 2016 election? Then there were his smears of political opponents: from claiming Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Trump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites MORE’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy to currently making reckless and false charges about Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Joe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary MORE.

Trump's political brand was formed by one of his biggest lies: that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? Biden hires top aides for Pennsylvania Spencer Cox defeats Jon Huntsman in Utah GOP governor primary MORE was not born in America and thus was an illegitimate president.

Well, the Trump defenders say, all presidents lie. Franklin D. Roosevelt lied about preparations to get America involved in World War II. President Dwight Eisenhower lied about a U.S. spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union, and John F. Kennedy lied about the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. FDR's was one of those rare justifiable lies for a nobler cause, and Ike and JFK came to regret their misrepresentations.

There have been inexcusable lies. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFox News apologizes for 'mistakenly' cropping Trump out of photo with Epstein, Maxwell Poll finds Biden with narrow lead over Trump in Missouri Trump's mark on federal courts could last decades MORE assured us that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He did. George W. Bush said America didn't engage in torture. We did. Barack Obama promised under the Affordable Health Care Act "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." Some couldn't.   

But none has been pathological like Trump, as laid out by Kessler and his co-authors, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly. At just one Michigan Trump rally last December, while he was being impeached, they counted 120 false or unsubstantiated statements.

Narcissistic and insecure, he lies about small stuff like the size of his crowds to the stuff of big scandals: shaking down Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, about why he fired former FBI director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed The Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing MORE and denying he sought to fire special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE.

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He repeatedly claims the tax cuts enacted under his administration were bigger than the Ronald Reagan tax cuts, though they only were a third as large; he falsely accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping his campaign, blames his predecessor for America not being prepared for COVID-19 (which broke out three years after Obama left office) and claims he killed Obamacare which, of course, he hasn't.

Nothing gets Trump’s fabrication juices flowing more than immigration. He often charges undocumented immigrants commit proportionally more crimes; studies show they commit less. He continues to brag about the wall he's building on the southern border that Mexico is paying for. He has actually built about 100 miles of refurbished fencing — Mexico hasn't paid a dime.

His recent rants about "Dreamers" — the immigrants who arrived at an early age, have done well in school, the military or other employment — are pure posturing. Read Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Shear's "Border Wars" on Trump and immigration. It's clear this issue is just transactional for him. Shortly after taking office he privately vacillated between diametrically different positions on Dreamers.

There are several dangers to this disdain for truth, the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. One is false equivalency. The same time Biden was criticized for exaggerating his early civil rights involvement, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE suggested that a television personality he didn't like may have been implicated in a murder; it was a grotesque lie.

The deeper danger is that since Trump got away with it for so long, it'll be tempting for other politicians to conclude the truth matters only when convenient. We teach our children the importance of telling the truth; in my profession, a reporter who knowingly writes a false story is fired; the bible admonishes against bearing "false witness," and under federal law, perjury is a felony.

Years ago, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously worried about a society that is "defining deviancy down," where standards and norms are lowered, the unacceptable becomes acceptable.

The country will recover from Trump's politics and the people around him. But if lying is more acceptable, it validates Pat Moynihan's worst fears.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.