By now, we know that President Trump is a lying demagogue. Since this is not said often enough, he has been allowed to routinize lying and enshrine the vilest forms of divisiveness as a normal part of our politics.
Lies do not deserve deference just because a president tells them.
We thought that the media learned during Joe McCarthy’s heyday that “We report the lies, you decide” is not a responsible approach to journalism. Trump’s egregiousness requires everyone to take a refresher course in the lesson of McCarthyism.
At the same time, just calling out deceit is insufficient. It is essential as well to understand why Trump tells particular lies at particular moments and to be hardheaded in judging how effective they are. This is a precondition to turning back the smears and the falsehoods.
Trump’s address Tuesday at a Nashville rally was a lollapalooza of deception. He kept the fact-checkers busy. PolitiFact raised doubts about 15 of his statements and flatly rated 10 of them as “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.”
But two passages are worth special attention.
“They don’t want the wall, they want open borders,” Trump said of Democrats. “They’re more interested in taking care of criminals than they are in taking care of you.”
For good measure, he referred to the House Democratic leader as “the MS-13 lover Nancy Pelosi,” linking her to the brutal gang whose members Trump continues to call “animals.” He even pumped up the crowd to shout out the word.
As a factual matter, “open borders” are not a policy supported by anyone except a handful of libertarians. The “taking care of criminals” line and the slandering of Pelosi have become so common they are barely noticed. Republicans on the ballot this fall should be asked if they see Pelosi as an “MS-13 lover,” and if not, whether they will denounce Trump for saying such a thing. I am not holding my breath.
Yet sometimes Trump engages in a perverse form of transparency. He signaled clearly that the whole point of his screed during which he also re-upped his claim that Mexico would pay for his border wall—was about the midterm elections. Immigration, he said, is “a good issue for us, not for them.”