Headline in NYT begins, “Trump says”. It is their seventh trending article. It is a mess.
Mr Trump says something which is doubtful. This is not news- in public he lies more than he tells the truth. He says what would serve his interests for others to believe, even if it is blatantly ridiculous, because enough people will take up the lie- three million fraudulent votes! Obama Kenyan!
Starting with Trump’s statement muddies the waters. The full headline is Trump says intelligence officials delayed briefing on Russian hacking. Did Russian interference affect the US election? That’s a question for historians. What do we know about it now? What are the latest developments? Journalists tackle that. But this is not a new development, only a tweet. Trump tweets, and NYT expatiates, and millions read breathlessly, again irritated by the horror that is their unpresidented-elect. It is unclear whether Trump is receiving the President’s daily intelligence briefing, the article says, but we knew that: he claimed not to need it. Details mount in confusion, one topic or another, about how dreadful Trump is- but mostly a feeling rather than clear evidence, sorted in a rational way. And his supporters do not care. No-one will be swayed by this article.
Donald Trump is racist, and NYT had a long careful article documenting evidence of that. Now, “Racist” is not just a slur people can throw at him, or a feeling they have about him, because we can cite particular incidents. A useful op-ed or feature might categorise evidence of Trump’s lying, its purpose and effects; but this one is not that. We don’t know. National intelligence declined to comment, Administration officials disputed it. There will be a full intelligence report, expected on Friday, on Russia’s interference. That would let people know its extent; but it will be secret, as it would reveal how the intelligence services find their information. So Mr Obama will know the extent of the interference, and even Mr Trump might, if he keeps a rigid wall in his mind between his understanding of reality and the fantasies he spins for others, but not the public, unless someone sitting on his bed who weighs 400 lbs hacks it.
Has Mr Trump a mandate? Did his vote in swing states increase because of actions by a foreign power? What should patriotic Americans think of a president in office by such means? Americans decided to obsess over the Podesta emails, and Americans decided which way to vote- we could not know the result of the election in an alternative universe without the hacking. Did trumped-up scandals about Democrats outweigh in people’s minds the scandal of Mr Trump refusing to release his tax returns, and his lie that he could not because of an IRS audit? Were people influenced by scandals, character, or even policies or issues? Is Cambridge Analytica more responsible, and more dangerous?
Mr Trump is squirting ink, pretending he has a mandate. Well, he would. He seems to think Russian interference makes his mandate less persuasive, so he denies the interference, but his understanding is not necessarily true.
The Russian hacking is so important that daily articles are worthwhile, explaining any developments; but undue attention to Trump’s tweets about anything merely increases his malign influence.
I couldn’t immediately find an article analysing, classifying, enumerating Trump’s lies, proving him a liar. The Jackson Sun, part of the USA Today network, calls him a “black liar” but only fact checks some statements about his charitable foundation. Boingboing reports the Wall Street Journal editor’s refusal to call his clear falsehoods lies, as that ascribes a moral intent to him. Boingboing calls the WSJ editor an “asshole” but does not discuss it. Marion Schneider in Stock News USA says Everyone is hoping for the best and hope that Trump will be a good president in spite of his lying nature. The country and its citizens are relying on him to do his best. Residual respect for the office, and possibly libel laws, hold publications back. The Chicago Tribune and the Daily Freeman have letters calling him a liar. HuffPo has one of those non-story non-articles– Someone said something in a television interview! The headline Carl Bernstein: Donald Trump’s Disdain For Facts Worse Than Nixon was enough to get me to click, and my regret was almost instantaneous. HuffPo’s “reporter” prissily terms Trump’s lies “factually incorrect assertions”. People who make as many factually incorrect assertions as Trump are either fools or knaves, and those who love America and its people should not assume Mr Trump is stupid.
A similar non-article in Good Magazine led me to a facebook post and then this Washington Post “blog post”, which should have been first on Google News. Was Trump lying? The standard that [the WSJ editor] adopts — that there must be a provable intent to mislead — seems woefully inadequate to informing readers about what Trump is really up to here. Sure, it’s possible that Trump continued to believe these things after they were debunked. We cannot prove otherwise. But so what? If we accept that it’s possible to prove something to be false — which Baker does, judging by his own comments — then we presumably also accept that this can be adequately proved to Trump. And so, Trump is telling a falsehood even though it has been demonstrated to him to be a falsehood.
If we don’t call that “lying,” or if we don’t squarely and prominently label these claims as “false,” don’t we risk enabling Trump’s apparent efforts to obliterate the possibility of agreement on shared reality? Even here, there is a rhetorical question rather than a statement. Have the courage of your convictions. The evidence is there. Trump is a liar.