Team Trump’s bizarre insistence on lying to the American people on easily verifiable facts continued this week. Right off the bat, you’ll recall, the newly elected president was embarrassed, for some reason, about the size of his inauguration crowd. It was smaller than that of his predecessor — a statement that is both clearly true and totally irrelevant. Consumed by size anxiety, Trump sent out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to lie to the American people. Spicer made up a series of statements that were clearly false. Another aide explained they were “alternative facts.” Spicer returned on Monday to say that it wasn’t his intention to tell bald-faced lies and deliver false information, but then continued to do just that. He even returned, hilariously, to the crowd size issue, giving more clearly inaccurate or fictitious data regarding viewership and pretending that he had not explicitly made the ludicrous claim that the in-person attendance was the largest in history. (He also whined that the situation was “a little demoralizing … it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you are continually told it is not big enough, not good enough, you can’t win.”) Again, an irrelevant issue, but I am not the first to point out that lying about verifiable, irrelevant trivialities is an attempt to assert that their own power can, ahem, trump the truth.
On Monday, Trump took executive action to officially declare the day of his inauguration a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” The declaration is worth a read (“A new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart…”).
Trump also has a strange obsession with the popular vote, which he lost handily. That’s less trivial than crowd size but it’s hardly germane at this point. He won the Electoral College fair and square, so he’s president! However, he simply cannot accept that several million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton so he has been indulging in conspiracy theories. In his initial meeting with congressional leaders on Monday, he said that he would have won the popular vote but was robbed because of massive voter fraud. Trump said that between 3 to 5 million unauthorized immigrants voted for Clinton. This is a preposterous claim without evidence. It’s a falsehood. The New York Times, in an unusual move, called it a “lie” in a front-page headline yesterday.
Team Trump insists it’s so (the truth, remember, is simply whatever falls out of Trump’s puckered lips) and now pledges to launch an investigation. They’ve offered no evidence for their claims because there is none. (They did attempt to muddy the waters by bringing up registration irregularities; of course, someone accidentally ending up registered in two places because of a move, such as Trump’s own daughter Tiffany or our own attorney general Leslie Rutledge, is no indication of widespread fraud.) We can guess what follows — voter suppression efforts gussied up with conspiracy theories. The Trump administration won’t care about the evidence; they’ve got their “alternative facts.”
Also this week, presumably channeling his insecure boss, Spicer made a great show of telling the press what a resounding ovation Trump had gotten from the CIA. In fact, according to both the press pool report and CIA staffers in attendance, Trump brought in his own lackeys to loudly cheer while the actual CIA crowd was quiet. This sort of low-rate propaganda beclowns the office of the presidency, but what can you expect from a man whose entire modus operandi is theatrical lying? Oh, and while at the CIA, Trump casually mentioned the possibility of a war crime, trying to seize oil from Iraq.
And today? A return of the old boast: that Trump is going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it. No details or information about funding was provided. Perhaps they’ll tell us tomorrow that the wall is there, period.
And the Trump administration announced that all scientific data from the Environmental Protection Agency will be reviewed by political staff before it is allowed to be released publicly. And on and on.
Here’s Greg Sargent at the Washington Post on Trump’s up-is-down, propagandist mumbo-jumbo:
All White Houses spin and try to pressure the media into reporting stories their preferred way. But this looks like something considerably more: A concerted effort to erode the core idea that the news media is legitimately playing its role in informing the citizenry. If the media challenges or factually debunks the fabricated, Trump-aggrandizing narrative that is coming out of the Trump White House, it will respond by simply repeating relentlessly that the fabricated story-line is the truth. Needless to say, there cannot be any shared agreement on facts or reality, except on the ones that the Trump White House has validated. This is why the most important thing about Spicer’s statement is the word “period.” When the Trump White House declares what the truth is, the discussion is over.
This is not a conventional dispute over the facts. It is not about “relations” between the press and the White House. It is about truth and power. The message this is designed to send is that Trump has the power to declare what the truth is, and the news media does not. The Trump White House is maintaining this posture while telling enormous, demonstrable lies, but no matter — according to the new White House Ministry of Disinformation, the truth is what Donald Trump says it is. Bank on it: This will hold true even when Donald Trump contradicts Donald Trump.
A few other tidbits from Trumpland …
One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and have to control information that may infuriate him. He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that.
Senior Congressional Republicans have privately told several people that Trump seems to have no clarity on where he stands on many issues.
President Trump spends substantial time and energy ridiculing the media. He spends even more time consuming —and obsessing about — it.
Print copies of three newspapers. When Billy Bush was on, “Access Hollywood” every night. TiVo of the morning and evening news shows so he can watch the tops of all of them. Always “60 Minutes.” Often “Meet the Press.” Lots of New York talk radio.
He’s not a book guy: In fact, some advisers say they don’t recall seeing him read one or even talking about one beyond his own, “The Art of the Deal.” And, as he told us, he’s not one for long reports or detailed briefings. One page usually suffices. Bullet points are even better. But he does consume — often in huge doses — lots of traditional media. …
Trump has been hooked on coverage, especially of himself, since the glory days of the New York tabloids, when he would happily leak details about his affairs and business deals. He can’t quit it. So the notion he will surrender the remote, or Twitter, or his grievances with reporters is pure fantasy. Aides talk of giving him “better choices” or jamming his schedule with meetings to keep him away from reading about or watching himself on TV. But this is an addiction he will never kick.
President Trump had just returned to the White House on Saturday from his final inauguration event, a tranquil interfaith prayer service, when the flashes of anger began to build.
Trump turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition — massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall.
As his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was still unpacking boxes in his spacious new West Wing office, Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged. …
Over the objections of his aides and advisers — who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency — the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary. …
Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.
There’s more, of course, but that’s enough for now. We’re not quite through Week One.