Saturday, August 29, 2020

Truth Is Casualty in Trump's Alternate Reality Show

          Political conventions inevitably rely on partisan propaganda and staged spectacle, but President Trump established an impossible-to-beat benchmark for toxic mendacity and egotistical showmanship by accepting the Republican nomination for president in a political rally held Thursday night [August 27] on the south lawn of the White House.
            Trump’s elaborately staged rally, in likely violation of the federal Hatch Act, capped a four-day virtual convention built around the two big lies that he is relying on to propel him toward re-election on Nov. 3. Trump claims to have been presiding over the nation’s strongest economy ever before the arrival of the novel coronavirus in February.
The real-life economic statistics show a different picture from Trump’s alternate reality. The economic growth rate spiked briefly near 4 percent in 2018, but has been below 3 percent ever since – an anemic growth rate compared to the boom years of the 1950s and roughly comparable to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
            Trump’s second big lie is his claim to have battled the coronavirus decisively from the earliest days of the pandemic and to have controlled its deadly spread. Again, the statistics show otherwise. With 180,000 American deaths from covid-19 so far, the United States leads the world in casualties from this disease.
            The virus may have come from “Communist China,” in the phrasing used by one of Trump’s apologists this week, but the deadly delay and negligence came straight out of the Oval Office.  Mainstream news organizations replayed news clips from those early days all week showing Trump’s confident claims to have the virus “under control” and his reassuring promise that it would simply “disappear” someday.
            The millions of Americans out of work in a still partly-shuttered economy and the millions of school children and college students learning remotely instead of in classrooms are proof certain that Trump’s assurances were empty and illusory. Mary Trump, his clinical psychologist niece, explains Trump’s foot-dragging in her penetrating account of Donald’s ill-formed psyche in her book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.
            “Donald didn’t drag his feet in December 2019, in January, in February, in March because of his narcissism,” Mary Trump writes. “[H]e did it because of his fear of appearing weak or failing to project the message that everything was ‘great,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘perfect.’ The irony is that his failure to face the truth inevitably led to massive failure anyway.”
            Any other public official, guilty of so many lies as Trump, would be pilloried in the press and politically damaged, just as Lyndon Johnson was for his infamous credibility gap. But not Donald Trump: his lies, after all, are not a bug, but a feature of his presidency--with more than 6,000 lies so far, according to fact-checkers at the Washington Post.
            Indeed, Mary Trump paints Donald’s “reckless hyperbole” as an ingrained habit, encouraged by his doting father and enabled in Donald’s early days by New York City media who failed to subject his rise to prominence to serious scrutiny. Donald was not the self-made millionaire nor the successful businessman with the golden touch that he portrayed himself to be or that his media enablers obligingly presented to gossip-loving readers and viewers.
            The Post’s fact-checkers counted more than 20 palpable falsehoods in their coverage of Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night. Among the biggest of the whoppers was Trump’s promise to protect health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions even as his administration is asking the Supreme Court to nullify the Affordable Care Act en toto along with the act’s protection for pre-existing conditions.
            Not content with his own puffery, Trump must also be presumed to have the behind-the-scenes stage manager for lesser instances of deception from other speakers. Thus, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump used her fifteen seconds of fame to congratulate her father-in-law for appointing an “unprecedented” number of women to positions in his administration. “That is not true,” the PBS NewsHour’s White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor commented in real time.
            In fact, the Post’s fact-checkers conclusively refuted the claim in coverage the next day. Tracking figures from the three preceding presidencies – Obama, Bush43, and Clinton – the Post showed that somewhere between 22 percent and 27 percent of his initial executive-level appointees were women, compared to 37 percent for Clinton, 26 percent for Bush, and 43 percent for Obama.
            Trump’s initial cabinet included two women, Chao at Transportation and DeVos at Education, plus two others with Cabinet rank, for a total of four. Bush had three women in his Cabinet plus one other with Cabinet rank, for a total of four. Obama had four women in his Cabinet plus four others with Cabinet rank, for a total of eight.
            The Post flatly concludes that the claim is phony. “Under no metric has Trump appointed more women than any previous president,” fact-checker-in-chief Glenn Kessler writes. “In fact, he currently lags behind Obama and Clinton and possibly George W. Bush in terms of the percentage of female appointments.”
            Truth, it has been said, is “the first casualty” in wartime. With Donald Trump in the White House, truth has never had a fighting chance, nor can American voters expect it to emerge unscathed in the brutal and dispiriting campaign now well under way.

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