Detaching from reality: Trump's lying reaches new heights — but the truth is catching up to him

Detaching from reality: Trump's lying reaches new heights — but the truth is catching up to him
Image credit: The White House

President Donald Trump's second year in office was massively consequential. From the steadily beating drum of the special counsel investigation into Russia, to the national firestorm over migrant family separations, to appointing a man accused of attempted rape to the Supreme Court, to presiding over the biggest midterm election year loss for House Republicans since Watergate, Trump has had to navigate a minefield of self-inflicted disasters and public outrage in 2018.

He has responded by ramping up the lies and disinformation to a truly breathtaking level.

An analysis by the Washington Post Fact Checker shows that Trump made over 7,600 false statements in 2018 — a rate of more than 15 lies per day, or nearly triple the rate in 2017. As an example, the Post noted that on January 2, Trump tweeted that former President Barack Obama "gave" the Iranian government money that went to terrorism (he didn't and it wasn't), that The New York Times was failing financially and had issued an apology for its 2016 election coverage (it wasn't and hadn't), and that he had presided over the "best and safest year for commercial aviation" (he hadn't).

Over the course of the year, Trump only got more aggressive in his lies. He claimed that Obama had the same family separation policy as he did (he didn't), that BMW was building a "major new plant" in the U.S. (they weren't), that the GOP tax cut for the rich was the largest in history (it wasn't), that Democrats want to copy socialist policies from Venezuela (they don't), that the Russia investigation is a "witch hunt" (it has already charged or convicted over 30 people), that the GOP has a plan to protect pre-existing conditions when they repeal the Affordable Care Act (they don't), and that his border wall is already built (even Ann Coulter called B.S. on that one).

Some journalists — including the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale, who has arguably done more to document the falsehoods at Trump's rallies than anyone else — have argued it's problematic to assume every single false statement from Trump is a lie, because we don't know whether he actually knows what he's saying is false.

However, there is plenty of reason to suppose Trump is aware that a great deal of what he says isn't backed up by facts — he simply doesn't think facts matter. In an interview with ABC News shortly after he took office, Trump said he didn't need evidence for his claims about voter fraud because "millions of people agree with me."

The small consolation is that the public does not seem to be falling for Trump's lies. In December, a Fact Checker survey showed people 18 paired statements, 11 of which were false claims Trump had made. Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans, and 4 in 10 Republicans, believed a significant number of them, and even most self-identified Trump supporters didn't believe all of them.

But even if Trump is failing to influence public perception, having occupied the Oval Office for two years seems to have made him more detached from reality than ever. And the debasing of truth by the President of the United States could undermine trust in the office, and civic institutions generally, for years to come.


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