I was again roaming through the 18th century seeking wisdom for the 21st when I recalled the thoughts of the English poet Thomas Gray in 1742 — thoughts that more than 30 percent of our country has seemingly adopted as their governing philosophy.
In “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” Gray reflects on his alma mater, considers the pains of aging, and ends positing, “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
Gray’s 18th century conundrum: Does willful oblivion beat informed awareness?
Our 21st century conundrum: How to treat a serial liar who happens to be president of the United State? Do we spot him for distaining truth or accept what he says, viciously attacking anyone calling out his deceit.
Clearly, it’s a situation no citizen should face — dealing with a president who consistently, flatly, deliberately lies with no apparent embarrassment, guilt or second thoughts. And lies a lot.
This is aberrant behavior for anyone, let alone one entrusted with the lives and fortunes of more than 320 million people. But what’s truly unfathomable is he lies despite modern technology recording his every utterance and fact-checking his every word. Is he truly that arrogant? Or that stupid?
And what does believing his easily-disproved lies say about his supporters?
So, culling from many sources (especially the New York Times), let’s examine a minute fraction of Trump’s alternate facts and check their veracity.
Jan. 23: “Between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.” (There’s no evidence of illegal voting.)
Jan. 30: “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage.” (At least 746 people were detained and processed under the first travel ban, and the Delta outage happened two days later.)
June 5: “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to Supreme Court.” (Trump himself signed and submitted this version of the travel ban, not the Justice Department.)
Jan. 25: “So, look, when President Obama was there (in Chicago) two weeks ago making a speech, very nice speech. Two people were shot and killed during his speech. You can’t have that.” (There were no gun homicide victims in Chicago that day.)
Feb. 7: “And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years.” (It was higher in the 1980s and ’90s.)
April 28: “The trade deficit with Mexico is close to $70 billion, even with Canada it’s $17 billion trade deficit.” (The U.S. had an $8.1 billion trade surplus, not deficit, with Canada in 2016.)
June 1: “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.” (The Paris climate accord doesn’t allow or disallow building coal plants. It says we can build as many as we want.)
April 12: “The (NATO) secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.” (NATO has been engaged in counterterrorism efforts since the 1980s.)
April 29: “We’re also getting NATO countries to finally step up and contribute their fair share. They’ve begun to increase their contributions by billions of dollars, but we are not going to be satisfied until everyone pays what they owe.” (The deal was struck in 2014)
March 7: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” (113 of them were released by President George W. Bush.)
You ask, “How can so many people believe so little truth?” Simple. They believe another Trump lie, the one about “fake media.”
Trump’s guiding philosophy is to say anything, no matter how outlandish, to his right-wing base and ignore the other 70 percent of the population. If his base believes, they’ll keep the Republican party in line, and that keeps him in control.
Until — until the truth catches up with him about Russia, his failure to fill empty positions in scores of federal agencies, his “mean” health care, his tweeting, about Congress getting sick of his double dealing and about his own incompetence.
Donald Trump is precisely the sort of creature another 18th century sage, John Adams, wrote about in his 1776 Thoughts on Government. Adams cautioned, “… [without] the great political virtues of humility, patience and moderation … every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” Humility. Patience. Moderation. Three words that will never describe Donald John Trump.
Tom Burke’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.