One thing you hear a lot when your job is to cover the 2016 presidential campaign, and in particular Donald Trump, is that there must be no shortage of material for articles. It’s true, but it’s also a major problem: How does one keep track of all of Trump’s lies and outrageous provocations?
Earlier this week, I thought about writing a piece on one of Trump’s latest ads — one in which he blatantly mistranscribes a statement from Clinton to claim that she said she intended to raise taxes on the middle class. This wasn’t your garden-variety campaign lie — Clinton literally says “we aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class,” but Trump’s ad claims she said “we are going to raise taxes on the middle class.” One can even put aside the fact that Clinton has said repeatedly that she doesn’t intend to raise taxes on the middle class or that PolitiFact got a linguistics professor to listen to the clip and conclude that Clinton said “aren’t” – the Trump camp is asking Americans to believe them, not their apparently lying ears.
But before I could write about this, Trump went and insinuated that those opposed to Clinton’s Supreme Court picks could consider assassinating her or perhaps starting an armed revolt. Then on Thurday Trump called President Obama the founder of ISIS – a charge that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would lead one to believe that Obama is either a terrorist or a traitor, but certainly the closet Muslim, born outside the United States, that “Trump the Birther” continues to believe is the case.
Of course, in focusing on these lies, one misses the smaller lies that Trump recounts — like that the United States has no way to screen Syrian refuges (it does); or that he opposed the Iraq War (he didn’t); or that he “doesn’t like insulting people” (ask Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb, or Crooked Hillary); that he didn’t insult a disabled reporter (he did); that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the second amendment (she doesn’t); that the 2016 election will be rigged (Trump is not able to see into the future); that he received a letter from the NFL about changing debate times in the fall (never happened); that “you can’t ever start a small business” with the amount of regulation in America today (that’s insane); that he built great businesses that had very little debt (he once called himself the“king of debt”).
I could go on and on in this vein, but you get the idea. Quite simply, how do you know when Donald Trump is lying? His lips are moving. What’s perhaps most bizarre about this is that if you talk to Trump voters, the thing they often claim to like about him best is that he’s authentic and that he tells it like it is.
That Trump is a liar is no longer contestable — how one deals with it is a tougher question to answer and one that I think every reporter and columnist who covers Trump must struggle with on a daily basis. After all, trying to fact-check a Trump speech is like trying to empty the ocean with a teacup.
But what we can conclude from Trump’s never-ending stream of untruths, exaggerations, and lies is that this is a man who cannot be trusted. Nothing he says can be taken seriously, because he’s shown no compunction in saying one thing, saying another thing that contradicts the first statement, and then denying he ever said it. Trump isn’t just a liar or a shader of the truth; he’s a person who creates a new reality, minute-to-minute. If he does this while running for president, imagine what he would do if he actually won the White House.
Having a major-party presidential nominee who is so brazenly and incessantly dishonest and who regularly violates American’s most basic political norms (like talking about the imprisonment or murder of political opponents) creates the kind of dilemmas that mature democracies like ours have rarely, if ever, had to confront. Trump has already normalized and made acceptable the kind of divisive rhetoric and dishonesty that have been the hallmarks of this campaign from day one. Washing that out of the nation’s political discourse may take years.
Still, while it’s exhausting to have to point this out on a daily basis, it’s also essential. Trump’s candidacy is a direct challenge not only to truth, but also to the very underpinnings of our democracy.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.