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Trump’s Endless Mendacity and the Dawn of American Fascism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

American presidents lie. They always have. Just Google “Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin,” “Bill Clinton and NAFTA” or “George Bush and weapons of mass destruction.” Even Honest Abe likely told a fib or two.

But no U.S. president has ever lied as prolifically, constantly, insidiously and dangerously as Donald Trump. He never stops. He’s the Energizer Bunny of endless falsehood.

It’s enough to make even Orwell’s head explode.

Trump, who received votes from just one in four U.S. adults in 2016, claimed that he would have won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton were it not for the voter fraud of undocumented immigrants. The alleged criminal votes were never cast.

Trump called his 2016 Electoral College victory “The biggest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan.” It was no such thing.

Trump lied about the size of his inauguration crowd even as aerial photographs of the event contradicted his boasts.

He has repeatedly and preposterously claimed that the Latinx immigrant population is full of murderers, rapists and gang members. It is not.

Trump claimed that President Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” just before his 2016 election victory. They were not.

He claimed to have as president-elect negotiated a deal to “save 1,100 jobs” at a Carrier plant in Anderson, Ind. He did no such thing.

He absurdly concocted a terrorist attack that never occurred, in Sweden, during his first month in office.

He claimed that the head of the Boy Scouts called him to say his speech was the best ever delivered to the Boy Scouts Jamboree. No such call ever took place. Trump’s terrible oration was widely reviled.

Trump claimed to have fired James Comey because the FBI director mishandled Hillary Clinton’s email scandal prior to the 2016 election, not because he was continuing to investigate Trump and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. That was another baldfaced lie.

He claimed that white-nationalist and neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Va., were “protesting very quietly,” and that liberal and left counter-protesters “didn’t have a [protest] permit.” False and false.

Trump laughably told oil workers in North Dakota that environmentalists “didn’t know why” they opposed the ecocidal, petro-capitalist Dakota Access and Keystone-XL pipelines. Ridiculous.

Trump lied repeatedly and viciously about the number of people who died during and after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

He ludicrously claimed to have led a strong federal response to the devastating storm in Puerto Rico. (He gave himself a “ten.”)

Trump absurdly claimed that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn didn’t do “anything wrong.” Flynn was later convicted for lying about his communications with the Kremlin during Trump’s presidential transition.

Trump farcically claimed that Paul Manafort never played a major role in his 2016 campaign. (Manafort chaired the Trump campaign up through the Republican National Convention that year.)

Trump falsely claimed that a Justice Department inspector general report exonerated him of collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. The report did neither of those things.

Trump ridiculously claimed that Michael Cohen was never a big player in his career or campaign. Cohen was Trump’s longstanding personal attorney and “fixer,” and he too has been convicted on federal charges.

Trump has claimed to know nothing about the illegal campaign finance payoff of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Cohen exposed that lie this summer.

After Cohen turned himself in to federal authorities, Trump said that Cohen pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that “were not crimes.” False. The violations are indeed federal crimes.

Trump unbelievably claimed not to have known that his son and son-in-law met with Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton in Trump Tower in June 2016.

Trump helped concoct the White House lie that the real subject matter of that June 2016 meeting was U.S. adoption policy.

He says that China “has been attempting to interfere in the upcoming 2018 elections.” There is no evidence to support that charge.

He falsely claims to be a self-made billionaire, something that The New York Times shows to have been a lie. (His father staked his entire business.)

Trump says that he and the Republican Party passed a “middle-class” tax “reform.” He certainly knows that they enacted a plutocratic tax cut, a great windfall for big corporations and the richest 1 percent.

Trump absurdly claimed before the tax cut that “we [U.S.-Americans] pay more taxes than anybody in the world” (we don’t) and that the tax “reform” would “cost me a fortune.”

He absurdly said that “public lands will once again be available for public use” while handing over 2 million acres to private corporations for coal mining, oil drilling, uranium extraction and other environmentally disastrous industrial activities.

He falsely claimed that he was legally compelled to order a “zero tolerance” border policy last spring that separated Mexican and Central American children from their parents.

In defense of his good friends atop the absolutist, head-chopping Saudi Arabian regime (which sends kill teams to torture, kill, and vivisect dissenting journalists in foreign embassies), Trump claims that Saudis have purchased $110 billion worth of military equipment from the U.S. and that this purchase creates “five-hundred thousand jobs,” later inflated to ““1 million jobs.” ”in the U.S.  His numbers here are absurdly exaggerated.

He claims without evidence that there are “people of Middle Eastern descent” in the latest Central American migrant “caravan” moving through Mexico towards the U.S.’ southern border.

He baselessly insisted that “Democrats are paying members of the caravan to try and get into the U.S. to harm Republicans in the midterms.”

He has sent U.S. troops to guard the border on the absurd lie that the beleaguered caravan constitutes a “national emergency.”

He preposterously claims that it is the mainstream media, which he calls “the enemy of the people,” and not him that has created our current climate of hatred and violence—even as he applauds a Montana congressman for body-slamming a young reporter.

Trump’s evasion of responsibility follows a hate-filled campaign and 21 months of ax-grinding in the Oval Office that has seen him call immigrants criminal gang members, murderers and rapists, while maliciously describing his political enemies and media critics and journalists as “evil,” “low lifes,” “low IQ” and “the most dishonest people on Earth.” Along the way, the openly sexist Trump has referred to women as “animals,” “dogs,” “horse-face,” “fat” and worse. The white supremacist who killed 11 people in a Jewish synagogue last Saturday was egged into violent action by Trump’s ridiculous and hateful caravan rhetoric.

The Trump Lie Machine is going into head-spinning and soul-numbing overdrive as the midterm elections draw closer.

Trump claimed earlier this year that leftist violence will break out across the country if Democrats reclaim Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. The absurdity speaks for itself.

Trump said in Arizona recently that immigrants had illegally taken over a city council in California. The claim was complete nonsense.

Trump has recently and insanely suggested that people are “rioting” in California “to get out of Sanctuary Cities. …They’re demanding to be released from sanctuary cities.” (This may be the single craziest thing I’ve ever seen Trump claim. It is truly bizarre.)

Trump is ridiculously claiming the Democrats will kick seniors off health insurance, abolish insurance protections for people with health problems, destroy Social Security, abolish U.S. borders and (I am not making this up) give “illegal” immigrants “free cars.” That’s right: “free cars” for “illegals.”

Trump repeatedly—36 times across seven political speeches this fall—called the Democrats “radicals.” Of course, the Democrats are a deeply conservative, Big Business-friendly, imperial/pro-military, and depressingly centrist apparatus. There isn’t a single genuine radical in their entire party.

Trump says that the “new platform of the supposedly ‘radical’ Democrats is to abolish ICE” (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement). That is flatly false.

Trump lies and distorts so relentlessly and profusely that tracking and fact-checking his false statements has become a full-time job for journalists at home and abroad.

One of these journalists is Daniel Dale, the Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star. He calculates that Lyin’ Don has made four false claims per day since being sworn into the presidency 21 months ago with his hand on the Bible.

When Dale was first assigned the Trump beat in September 2016, he found the Republican candidate “so incessantly dishonest” that his habit of twisting and inverting reality required a specific focus “separate from the day-to-day news coverage I was doing.” Dale looked forward to being “freed from this [ugly] task” of covering Trump’s persistent untruths once Hillary Clinton prevailed, as was widely expected. Trump won “and so, [he] had to continue.”

What accounts for this endless mendacity and rhetorical manipulation? Speaking to “Public” Broadcasting System “NewsHour” anchor and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member Judy Woodruff last week, Dale theorized that Trump and the Republican allies and outlets who repeat his outlandish and bogus assertions want to drive media coverage and political discourse away from topics they wish to avoid—health care, the Mueller investigation and “anything else the president doesn’t want us to talk about,” such as Trump’s still unreleased tax returns, climate change and the party’s regressive tax cuts.

Dale is on to something there, no doubt, but the real meaning of the president’s Twitter-amplified Fibby Pulpit is deeper and darker than mere diversion and partisan spin. As Chris Hedges suggests in his latest book, “America: The Farewell Tour, Trump and his party’s continuing defiance of reality suggests that the United States is sliding into “corporate totalitarianism”:

Trump and the Republican Party represent the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. Pillage and oppression are intensified by the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. … But Clinton did not pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.

The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of ‘fake news.’ They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted them with the revoking of net neutrality. … “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed,” Hanna Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. …

The permanent lie turns political discourse into absurdist theater. … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has a report that proves the tax cuts will pay for themselves and will not increase the deficit – only there never was a report. … The permanent lie is the apotheosis of totalitarianism. It no longer matters what is true. … When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, and depth and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s faith in threats and force.

Consistency is discarded. The Trump administration has cited “states’ rights” in trying to roll back federal requirements that out-of-date coal and nuclear plants be shut down, even as it endeavors to federally negate the state of California’s right to enforce comparatively stringent emission regulations.

Republican Congressional candidates run campaign commercials proclaiming their commitment to retaining the Affordable Care Act’s provision prohibiting health insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions at the same time that the GOP is viciously challenging that provision in court.

Trump blames the nation’s bourgeois media and a timid, centrist Democratic Party for the hatred, incivility and demonization that pollute U.S. politics while he calls his opponents “evil” and celebrates violence against liberals and journalists.

It is important to understand, as Hedges does, that the Trump-led assault on veracity, evidence and our very ability to separate truth from falsehood has been able to gain traction only because a decades-long corporate coup has devastated and discredited public education, academia, organized labor and the legal and criminal justice systems. It has done all this and more while turning the Democratic Party into what the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin called the nation’s Inauthentic Opposition.

Think of this distinctively American “corporate-managed democracy” and “inverted totalitarianism” as the nation’s pre-existing authoritarian condition for the rise of an Amerikaner-style fascism.

In the face of what an authoritarian like Trump and his white-nationalist Republican Party have done over the last two years of one-party rule—an annulment of what’s left of the U.S. Constitution’s much-ballyhooed “checks and balances”—there’s no credible moral argument against the notion that progressives living in contested districts should choose the lesser of two evils in next week’s midterm elections. Adolph Reed Jr., Noam Chomsky and Arun Gupta’s warnings about the dangers of a Trump presidency have been richly born out. I, for one, should have paid them more heed.

Still, we on the left, what’s left of it, should nonetheless retain our capacity to be properly nauseated by a yard sign I recently saw in arch-liberal, super-blue Iowa City, Iowa. Surrounded by other, smaller signs with the names of a handful of dismal local and statewide Democratic candidates, it read “MAKE AMERICA GOOD AGAIN: Vote.”

Please. The notion that the richly bipartisan corporate totalitarianism of which Trump is the apotheosis can be reversed, and the nation made “good” simply by voting Herr Donald and the Republicans out of office is a childish fantasy.

That, too, is a Great Lie. As marchers celebrating a rare legal victory over a white supremacist U.S. police state in Democratically controlled Chicago chanted last month, “The whole damn system is guilty as Hell.” It’s the whole damn system that must be democratized from the bottom up. From the dismal dollar Democrats, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, “P”BS, Tom Steyer, the Gates Foundation, the Brookings Institution, the CFR, the Atlantic Council, the Obama and Clintons on the so-called left, to the radically reactionary Republicans, the Koch brothers, the Mercers, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Fox News, the Weekly Standard, the Hudson Institute, the Hoover Institution, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, Breitbart, right-wing talk radio, the Sinclair Broadcasting Co., the Federalist Society and more on the actual right, imperialism, racial inequality and class rule have brought us to this menacing pre-fascist moment.

Paul Street
Contributor
Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books,…
Paul Street

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