Donald Trump spun a virtual fantasy world of lies and misstatements in his State of the Union speech that was so detached from reality it raised new questions about how much longer the politics of lying can be tolerated without permanent damage to our democracy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stunned onlookers when she tore up her copy of Trump’s speech on national television following his remarks. But she drove home the point today (Feb. 6) when she revealed her reasons.
“I tore up a manifesto of mistruths,” Pelosi said at her weekly Capitol Hill media conference.
“It was necessary to get the attention of the American people to say, ‘This is not true. And this is how it affects you.’ And I don’t need any lessons from anyone, especially the President of the United States, about dignity.”
Indeed, Trump kept fact-checkers business as spoke at the traditional gathering of lawmakers in the House of Representatives chamber. The hour-and-27-minute speech contained at least 31 false or misleading statements, according to The Washington Post.
Trump has been called out on many of them repeatedly in the past. But he had no qualms about peppering his speech with the same rhubarbs to puff up his administration’s record.
His biggest claims involve the economy. “I am thrilled to report to you tonight that our economy is the best it has ever been,” he proclaimed.
The economy has been steadily gaining for the past 11 years and the momentum has carried over into the Trump administration, thanks largely to a $1.4 trillion tax cut. But his only record-setting achievement is the growth of the deficit, which is now the largest since World War II.
The unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5 percent under Trump, but it was as low as 2.5 percent in 1953, The Post noted.
Trump has never achieved an annual growth rate above 3 percent. In 1997, 1998 and 1999, the gross domestic product grew 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4 percent to 6.6 percent. In 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is projecting meager growth rates of 1.7 percent from 2021 through 2030, all but driving a nail in Trump’s boast that growth would exceed 4.5 percent.
He again claimed that he passed the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, a falsehood he’s repeated in speeches more than 200 times. The Trump tax cut is nearly 0.9 percent of GDP — compared with 2.89 percent of GDP for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, the actual largest on record.
“When measured as a share of the U.S. economy, Trump’s tax cut is the eighth-largest in the past century,” the Post reports.
Trump went on and on, overstating or lying outright about job growth, the border wall, the unemployment rate, blue-collar wage growth, 401(k) retirement accounts, manufacturing growth, defense spending and the nation’s energy independence.
On defense, for example, one of the president’s favorite boasts, he claimed to have invested “a record-breaking $2.2 trillion in the United States military.”
But adjusted for inflation, all three of his annual defense budgets fall short of the Obama administration’s defense spending in 2010.
But the biggest and most damaging falsehoods involved health care.
“We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions,” he asserted, a claim he has made dozens of times.
But the Trump administration is supporting a lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act that will end the law’s mandate requiring coverage of preexisting conditions. Republicans have yet to come up with a replacement.
He also claimed “for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.” But studies have repeatedly shown they haven’t gone down.
Pelosi charged that the address reflected a “state of mind that had no contact with reality whatsoever,” especially in regard to health care.
“We do not want the chamber of the House of Representatives to be used as a backdrop for one of his reality shows,” she said.
Repetition makes a fact seem more true, regardless of whether it is or not. Understanding this effect can help you avoid falling for propaganda, psychologist Tom Stafford told the BBC.
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth,” Nazi henchman Joseph Goebbels reportedly once said. It’s become the first law of propaganda in the Trump administration.
The politics of lying goes beyond the head of state. Trump’s lies and misstatements are supported and reinforced, without question, by GOP lawmakers and top administration officials. They cheered loudly during the speech.
When they are proven wrong, they merely deflect or blame the “deep state.”
Republicans are apparently willing to tolerate Trump’s lies because, in the final analysis, he supports their agenda and wields considerable political and financial power over them.
Add Fox News, which acts as a semi-official state propaganda outlet, and all the necessary ingredients are there to add credibility to the president’s most outlandish lies.
While it’s a given that all presidents lie to some extent, none have gone to the extremes of the Trump administration. The Post and other fact-checkers have tracked more than 16,000 lies and misstatements in his first three years on office.
Nor have previous administrations weaponized it in the same way as Trump to divide the country.
Trump has no qualms about making false or derogatory comments about anyone who challenges him.
The corrosive effects on democracy give rise to cynicism and distrust in the nation’s institutions, ultimately leading to a constitutional crisis, just as it did with the Vietnam War, the 2003 Iraq invasion and Trump’s attack on Iran.
Pelosi put her foot down on Trump’s lying in a very visceral and visible way at the State of the Union speech to make a point. It was a long time coming.
She was particularly angered because the State of the Union speech is supposed to be a non-partisan accounting of the nation. Trump, like everything else, weaponized it for political purposes.
The president’s lying needs to become a topic of national debate. The news media must challenge him every time he utters a lie or misstatement, not just in fact-checking articles well after the fact.
Otherwise, the more his lies are repeated, the more they become the truth.