Wissot: Fact-checking our President is pointless; at this point, the voters will decide (column)
“They are carrying out fact-checkers on stretchers at Trump rallies,” quipped Bill Maher on his cable show one night. Maher was joking, of course, but President Donald Trump wasn’t when he referred to fact checkers as “bad people” (“Trump calls fact-checkers ‘bad people,’” The Washington Post, Aug. 13, 2018).
Calling fact-checkers “bad people” is like claiming cops are harming society by arresting criminals. In Trump’s mind, doing what you are hired to do when it works to his disadvantage is wrong.
It is an onerous task to fact-check this president. It requires constant scrutiny to keep track of all the times he has lied. The Washington Post has very carefully added them up since he took office, and its total was 3,251 as of May 31, 2018 (“President Trump has made 3,251 false or misleading claims in 497 days,” The Washington Post, May 31, 2018).
I don’t think Trump is a serial liar. I think he is a serial denier. His lies are intended to distract, rather than deceive. He lies to avoid blame, criticism and accountability. He falsely accuses the Democrats of inflating the number of people who died in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria last year in order to “make him look as bad as possible” (“Trump denies heavy death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 13, 2018).
He can’t accept the criticism that his administration’s poor response to the hurricane may have contributed to the deaths of almost 3,000 people. He prefers questioning the reported number of deaths, rather than questioning his administration’s response to the natural disaster.
Like Holocaust and climate-change deniers, Trump is a denier of all facts that fly in the face of the false narrative he prefers to advance. His lies are necessary for him to project an air of infallibility and gain immunity from accountability.
So, what should we do? Ignore the lies? Ignore the liar? Stop fact checking the recurring lies? Yes. Yes. Yes.
The people who think he is a liar don’t need to be reminded anymore. They firmly believe he is. Further evidence will have no appreciable benefit.
Similarly, Trump supporters who for the most part don’t believe the claims of his lying reported by the media, or just don’t care that he lies, aren’t going to be persuaded to stop supporting him if it is reported that he lies a thousand times a day.
People often overlook the lies told by a liar because they like him or her. When I was in high school, I had a friend named Jay Wiener. He was a teller of tall tales, most of them told to embellish his reputation and exaggerate his talents. We would roll our eyes every time Jay would begin one of his specious yarns. But we didn’t reject or ostracize him because he was, in many other ways, a good guy. His lies were something we were willing to tolerate because we wanted to keep his friendship.
I think many Trump supporters like Trump for so many reasons — his unscripted manner, his fierce rhetoric, his feisty attitude — that his penchant for deviating from the truth is dismissed as untrue or unimportant, a trivial blemish at best compared to his other highly desirable traits.
The country would be better served if the electorate on both sides of the Trump divide spent their time marshaling their forces to vote in the upcoming fall elections, which will largely be a referendum on his presidency.
The only real way to counter the actions of a perceived wayward leader in a democracy is at the ballot box. More than the executive branch, more than Congress, more than the courts, more than the media, the ultimate power rests with the people and the best way for them to exercise that power is to vote.
“Let the voters decide” is not just a rallying cry in a democracy. It is the only real way for the electorate to determine whether they believe their president is telling them the truth.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.