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A new age of lies?

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 Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy to currently making reckless and false charges about Joe Biden.

Trump’s political brand was formed by one of his biggest lies: that Barack Obama 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 Clinton 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 Comey and denying he sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

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 Trump 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.

Tags Alternative facts Authoritarianism Barack Obama Bill Clinton Donald Trump Donald Trump Facts James Comey Joe Biden Robert Mueller Ted Cruz Washington Post fact check

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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