Americans have tolerated presidential untruths since the dawn of the republic. We’ve weathered them and moved on. So far.
Thomas Jefferson was known in his day as “Jeff the Trimmer.” James K. Polk lied us into the Mexican war by falsely claiming that Mexican troops had “crossed the boundary of the United States.” Lyndon Johnson got a blank check to widen the war in Vietnam by falsely claiming that North Vietnamese boats had attacked us in the Gulf of Tonkin. Richard Nixon said, “I’m not a crook.” Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Just to name a few.
But, until now, we’ve never been forced to put up with a serial liar whose daily false spewings diminish the presidency and stain this nation in ways we dearly hope will not be permanent. I fully acknowledge that nothing I said in that last sentence is new; last November, 53.9 percent of the voters knew it would be nuts to hand the White House to a twisted soul who ought to be plying his cons at a beauty pageant or casino.
Nevertheless, as a public service, I’m sharing an interview that our “leader” granted this week to Time magazine. You know the crazy addled uncle you see once a year at Thanksgiving, the guy who disgorges nonstop nonsense and is cognitively incapable of ceding error, the guy you stick at the far end of the turkey table where he won’t scare the kids? Now that guy has the nuclear codes.
Today, as we wait to see whether the hapless House Republicans will follow his “lead” on health care and pass a kill-Obamacare bill that would screw the same voters who put him in office, let us pass the interval with a few head-shaking interview highlights. Any resemblance to Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny,” blathering incoherently about pilfered strawberries, is entirely intentional.
Q: FBI director James Comey announced on Monday, as did NSA director Mike Rogers, that President Obama did not order wiretaps on your phones. Doesn’t that hurt the credibility of your tweets?
Trump: “No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened … Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes.”
Q: You’ve claimed that three million undocumented people voted in last November’s election.
Trump: “Well I think I will be proved right about that too … Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I’m forming a committee on it.”
Q: But there’s no evidence that three million people did that.
Trump: “We’ll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. We will see after we have. But there will be, we are forming a committee. And we are going to do a study on it, a very serious problem.”
Q: What about your campaign statement that thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 from New Jersey rooftops?
Trump: “Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in The Washington Post.” (The reporter wrote no such story, and when the reporter pointed that out, Trump mocked his physical disability.)
Q: Should a president say things without factual evidence?
Trump: “I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right.”
Q: But you’ve said things that aren’t true, like when you said that Ted Cruz’s father helped to assassinate JFK.
Trump: “Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story [in The National Enquirer] … Why do you say that I have to apologize? I’m just quoting the newspaper, just like I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano, I quoted Judge Napolitano [a Fox News guy who’d alleged without evidence that British intelligence had tapped Trump] … I have a lot of respect for Judge Napolitano, and he said that three sources have told him things that would make me right. I don’t know where he has gone with it since then. But I’m quoting highly respected people from highly respected television networks.”
Q: But presidents typically try to verify information first, before they use it.
Trump: “Well, I’m not, well, I think, I’m not saying, I’m quoting, I’m quoting highly respected people and sources from major television networks.”
Q: Did you see what the Wall Street Journal editorial page just said about you?
Trump: “I thought it was, I thought it was a disgrace that they could write that … The country’s not buying it, it is fake media. And the Wall Street Journal is a part of it.”
By the way, if you’re wondering what the Journal editorial page said yesterday about Trump, here are some highlights – and remember, the Journal’s editorial writers are well known for their staunch conservatism:
“If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods …
“The president clings to his (Obama wiretap) assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle…Two months into his presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake president.”
Maybe there’s hope. The latest national Quinnipiac poll puts Trump’s approval at 37 percent, with erosion in the Republican base – and only 35 percent of Americans say that he’s honest. Perhaps he’s aware of his horrific credibility chasm?
Trump to Time magazine: “The country believes me.”
Q: So you don’t worry about your credibility?
Trump: “Name what’s wrong! I mean honestly.”
Can this serial liar survive in office — and even thrive? A political observer once said, “It is necessary to be a great pretender and dissembler, and (citizens) are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” Pity us if Niccolo Machiavelli is proved right.
From the diary of Devin Nunes, House Republican intelligence sleuth: “Rushed to the White House this morning. Lengthened the master’s tie. Combed the master’s hair. (So sumptuous!) Brushed the master’s teeth and saw a transmitter in one of His fillings. Took an iPhone pic of it, will share with Fox News. Eat your heart out, Adam Schiff.”