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.


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 CruzEthics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot Hawley, Cruz see approval ratings dip in wake of Capitol riot: poll For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy to currently making reckless and false charges about Joe BidenJoe BidenMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Fauci infuriated by threats to family MORE.

Trump's political brand was formed by one of his biggest lies: that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTom Brokaw retiring from NBC News after 55 years Obama remembers baseball legend Hank Aaron as 'one of the strongest people I've ever met' Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86 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 ClintonMcConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' The Memo: Biden strives for common ground after Trump turmoil 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 ComeyBiden to keep Wray as FBI director Comey: 'Republican Party has to be burned to the ground' Juan Williams: The real 'Deep State' is pro-Trump MORE and denying he sought to fire special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE.


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 TrumpMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Trump planned to oust acting AG to overturn Georgia election results: report 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.