Robinson: We are now having to defend truth itself

An administration that relies on ‘alternative facts’ and claims ‘truth isn’t truth’ corrodes democracy.

By Eugene Robinson

Whenever the Trump administration ends, we already have its shameful epitaph: “Truth isn’t truth.”

President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, made that unintentional confession of method and purpose Sunday on “Meet the Press.” From the beginning of the campaign, this whole enterprise has been a lie, a fraud, a grift, a cruel deception — a sustained and increasingly frantic attempt to obscure inconvenient truth.

Earlier in the interview, as if to illustrate the point he was about to make, Giuliani told what can only be called a bald-faced lie. He claimed that when Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman met at Trump Tower in 2016 with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, “all they knew is that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn’t know she was a representative of the Russian government.” But in email traffic setting up the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. was told that the promised “information that would incriminate Hillary” constituted “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Giuliani claimed Monday that his declaration about the nature of veracity was just a clumsy way of describing “he said, she said” situations in which the facts cannot be ascertained. But he had tried to peddle what White House counselor Kellyanne Conway once called “alternative facts” about the Trump Tower meeting. “Truth isn’t truth” should be taken as a suspect’s blurted admission of guilt.

Constant, relentless, shameless lying is not ancillary to the Trump administration. It is not a sideshow; it’s the main event. We have become inured to the fact that the president of the United States and his aides and associates simply cannot be relied upon to tell the truth.

Sometimes they lie about little things. Last week, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a rare correction — she had claimed, falsely, that more jobs have been created for African-Americans since Trump took office than during Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure. In acknowledging that this was absurdly wrong (the true figures are about 3 million new jobs under Obama and about 700,000 under Trump), Sanders claimed that numbers she had given were right but “the time frame for Pres Obama wasn’t.”

Even that, however, was a lie.

The tallies that Sanders claimed are correct use as their starting points the months when the two presidents were elected, not the months when they took office. This unusual shift in time frame has the effect of subtracting jobs from Obama’s total, since his transition took place during the 2008 economic meltdown, and adding them to Trump’s, since the economy was rapidly expanding during the months he was president-elect.

Why obsess over a few obscure numbers? Because the figures were prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, which in previous administrations has meticulously provided accurate, definitive information about the economy. It appears that Trump’s vanity and insecurity have impaired the CEA’s ability to perform its most important function, which is to tell presidents economic news they might not want to hear.

Little lies lead inexorably, of course, to big lies. Trump and his aides want us to believe that of the estimated 4 million Americans who have security clearances of some kind, the only individuals who deserve to have their clearances reviewed — and ultimately, perhaps, revoked — are a handful of vocal critics of Trump, including such figures as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who has accused Trump of “treasonous” behavior, said Sunday he may take Trump to court over last week’s decision to revoke his clearance. I hope Brennan does sue. The administration claims otherwise, but Trump has drawn up a Nixon-style “enemies list” and is punishing those on it — a clear and unacceptable abuse of power.

Trump’s acid-tongued Twitter feed and his public remarks are gushers of lies, falsehoods and exaggerations. As of Aug. 1, The Washington Post’s indefatigable Fact Checker column had counted a staggering 4,229 false or misleading claims by the president since he took office.

How can this not have a corrosive effect on our democracy? We are accustomed to politicians who shade the truth and spin the facts, but now we have a president who ignores unpleasant truth and rejects unflattering facts. Whether this is a diabolical plan to delegitimize critics or a reflection of Trump’s narcissism, the damage is the same. As a society we become less able to believe, less able to trust.

Truth is truth — and worth fighting for.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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