[Marxism] ‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past
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Sun Jan 29 09:41:51 MST 2017
NY Times, Jan. 29 2017
‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past
By DAVID BARSTOW
As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose
biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under
the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist
who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic:
Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished
over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from
President Trump during his first days in office.
“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is
down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,”
said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and
the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of
America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.
It was not just Mr. Trump’s debunked claim about how many people
attended his inauguration, or his insistence (contradicted by his own
Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community,
or his audacious and evidence-free claim that Hillary Clinton won the
popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.
Trump’s Inauguration vs. Obama’s: Comparing the Crowds
Estimates put the crowd gathered for President Donald J. Trump’s
inauguration at far less than President Obama’s in 2009.
All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after
another. PolitiFact, a website devoted to checking the veracity of
claims by public officials, published 12 “of the most misleading claims”
Mr. Trump made during his first White House interview. The Chicago
Tribune found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he claimed two people
were shot and killed in Chicago the very hour President Barack Obama was
there delivering his farewell address. (There were no shootings, police
records showed.) The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was
incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.”
(The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The
indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or
misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days
But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much
about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the
mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the
rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars
those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably
false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of
his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated
insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most
noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego
but also important strategic goals. Mr. Trump’s habitually inflated
claims about his wealth, for example, fed his self-proclaimed image of a
business genius even as they attracted lucrative licensing deals built
around the Trump brand.
Nearly 30 years ago, in his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal,” Mr.
Trump memorably extolled the advantages of “truthful hyperbole,” which
he described as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective
form of promotion.” It is one thing when the hyperbole comes from a
reality TV star exaggerating his ratings to a roomful of television
critics. The stakes are infinitely higher when it comes from the leader
of the free world, and this reality is provoking alarm from many across
the political spectrum.
Steve Schmidt, who helped manage Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential
campaign, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s cascade of falsehoods
was “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy” in
the United States. Mr. Schmidt said that when he heard Mr. Trump’s
adviser Kellyanne Conway defend the Trump administration’s “alternative
facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, he thought of George
Orwell’s “1984,” in which the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three
slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
“In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold
elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,”
Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation
of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader
believes, or what is best for the state.”
Mr. Lewis argued that the president’s untruths were a deliberate
strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the
enemy of his administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the
media,” he said.
Indeed, last Saturday, on Day 2 of his administration, Mr. Trump told
hundreds of C.I.A. employees that he had “a running war with the media”
and called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
The next day, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, accused the news media
of trying to “delegitimize” the new president and promised, “We are not
going to sit around and let it happen.” By Wednesday, Stephen K. Bannon,
Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, was referring to the news
media as “the opposition party” during an interview with The New York Times.
“It feels like this was part of the plan all along,” Mr. Lewis said.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written
about Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon
Johnson, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s brazen willingness to
deny “objective reality” had, if nothing else, succeeded in diverting
public attention from matters of more lasting consequence, like his
flurry of executive orders. “I don’t know that he is doing it
strategically,” she said, “but it certainly had the impact of a
magician’s sleight of hand.”
Deception, dissembling, exaggeration — what Fortune magazine called his
“astonishing ability to prevaricate” — has deep roots in Mr. Trump’s
business career. In innumerable interviews over the years, Mr. Trump
glibly inflated everything from the size of his speaking fees to the
cost of his golf club memberships to the number of units he had sold in
new Trump buildings. In project after project, he faced allegations of
broken promises, deceit or outright fraud, from Trump University
students who said they had been defrauded, to Trump condominium buyers
who said they had been fleeced, to small-time contractors who said Mr.
Trump had fabricated complaints about their work to avoid paying them.
In the early 1980s, a New York City housing court judge ruled that Mr.
Trump had filed a “spurious” lawsuit to harass a tenant into vacating a
Trump building. In the early 1990s, a federal judge ruled that despite
Mr. Trump’s denials, there was “strong evidence” he and his subordinates
had conspired to hire undocumented workers and deprive them of
employment benefits. In the case of Trump University, Mr. Trump
repeatedly claimed that he had “handpicked” each of the instructors who
were hired to teach students the secrets of his real estate investing
strategies. Yet during a deposition, Mr. Trump struggled to identify a
single instructor, even after he was shown their photographs.
The price Mr. Trump paid for this record of prevarication was modest and
manageable. His lawyers quietly settled cases when necessary, almost
always after binding plaintiffs to secrecy. Some major banks and law
firms quietly pulled back from doing or seeking business with the Trump
Organization. Skeptical judges turned away his libel suit against a
journalist who wrote a book calling into question the amount of his
wealth. But usually, by the time the truth caught up, Mr. Trump had
moved on to the next big thing.
Once he stepped into the political arena, however, fact-checking
operations began cataloging his false statements in ways he never
experienced during his years as a real estate developer and reality
television star. PolitiFact, for example, has scrutinized 356 specific
claims by Mr. Trump and found that more than two-thirds of the claims
were “mostly false,” “false” or, in 62 cases, “Pants on Fire” false.
“Trump is a different kind of figure than we’ve ever seen before in our
10 years of fact-checking,” Bill Adair, the creator of PolitiFact and a
journalism professor at Duke University, said in an interview. “No one
has come close to Trump in the high percentage of falsehoods.”
Mr. Trump’s election alone is evidence he did not pay a high price for
his plethora of false claims on the campaign trail. Nor are there many
signs that his loyal base of supporters is troubled by the misstatements
he has made in the first week of his presidency.
“There’s no question that the messages and the actions of the first week
are deeply resonating with tens of millions of Americans,” Mr. Schmidt
said. And even if some Republican leaders in Washington view the
president’s behavior as “strange” or “worrisome,” he said, they are for
now more focused on the tax cuts and deregulation they hope to achieve
under his administration.
Mr. Trump has given conflicting signals about whether he understands the
difference between fallacies uttered by the president of the United
States and promotional puffery from a real estate developer boasting of
his latest hotel or golf course. In Mr. Trump’s first interview as
president, David Muir of ABC News asked, “Do you think that your words
matter more now?”
“Yes, very much,” Mr. Trump said.
Yet then Mr. Muir asked, “Do you think that talking about millions of
illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?”
“No, not at all,” he replied. “Not at all because many people feel the
same way that I do.”
As if to prove the point, Mr. Trump then doubled down on his lie about
millions of illegal votes. “Believe me, those were Hillary votes,” he
said. “And if you look at it, they all voted for Hillary. They all voted
for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me.”
For Ms. Goodwin, Mr. Trump’s week of reality distortions brought to mind
Lincoln’s address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Ill., on
Jan. 27, 1838, where he made an appeal to Enlightenment values as the
best antidote to what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” “Reason — cold,
calculating, unimpassioned reason — must furnish all the materials for
our future support and defense,” he said.
“He was worrying about authoritarian behavior,” Ms. Goodwin said.
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