President Donald Trump has broken lots and lots of norms during his first 347 days as President. But none are as flagrant or as important as his casual relationship with the truth and utter lack of regard for being factual.
According to the amazing Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post, Trump has made 1,950 misleading or simply false claims since being sworn in as President on January 20, 2017. That’s an average — average — of 5.6 a day. Every day he has been President.
A quick bit of math suggests that Trump will go over 2,000 false claims for his first year in office sometime in the next week. It could happen even sooner than that if Trump decides to give another impromptu media interview; the Post counted 24 falsehoods in Trump’s 30-minute interview with New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt over the holidays.
Trump’s total lack of commitment to facts as President is a continuation of the trend from the 2016 presidential race. In that contest, 59 of the 92 Trump statements that the Post fact-checked were found to be totally and completely false. That’s roughly two thirds (64%). By comparison, seven of the 49 fact-checked statements by Hillary Clinton were found by the Post to be totally and completely false. That’s just more than one in 10 (14%).
The conclusion here is a simple one: Trump lies with zero sense of shame, guilt or remorse. Unlike most politicians who, when caught in a falsehood or a lie, won’t repeat it again for fear of the blowback, Trump seems to revel in saying things that have been proven not to be true. According to the Post’s Fact Checker, there are more than 60 falsehoods that Trump has repeated at least three times during his first year as president. Sixty!
Trump has normalized lots and lots of behavior that would have been unheard of from any past President. (The New York Times’ Peter Baker wrote brilliantly about Trump’s total disregard for being “presidential” here.)
But nothing is more important — and more damaging to the long-term fabric of society — than Trump’s willingness to just say (and say and say and say and say) things that aren’t true. And that he knows aren’t true.
Trump’s entire life is a story he tells himself. That narrative sometimes comports with established facts. Often it doesn’t. Whether it did or not wasn’t a concern for Trump. The important thing is that in the story of his life, Trump was always winning, always the coolest.
And, until he entered politics, that was OK. After all: Trump was hardly the only fabulist at work in the culture.
When he was elected President, however, Trump’s willingness to say things he knows aren’t true became far more corrosive. His persistent lies coupled with an active effort to undermine the very idea that facts actually exist — and are not just one’s opinion — are tremendously deleterious to having a society in which we all agree on a handful of accepted norms no matter where we land on the political or socioeconomic spectrum.
Whatever else Trump does in the next three (or seven) years, that disregard for facts will be his most lasting legacy.