When Donald Trump went on national television to announce that the ruthless terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead and that he ran for his life “whimpering and crying and screaming,” I was pretty sure the president was lying.
No, I didn’t have any inside information. I knew he was lying because his lips were moving, adding to the chances that he was saying something untrue. And it turns out I was right.
So far, no one has confirmed the story. No one.
As the New York Times reported, “The secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional commander who oversaw the operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State, all say they have no idea what the president was talking about.”
Maybe he made up the story because he understandably hates the man who was responsible for so many unspeakable acts. Maybe that’s why he wanted to humiliate him, even in death. Maybe he wanted any sympathizers to know that despite the fact that he blew himself up rather than be captured, Baghdadi went out a “whimpering, crying, screaming” coward.
Or maybe it was something about Donald Trump’s background in reality TV.
To understand this president, you must understand that he is a showman whose values – such as they are – derive in large part from television. On TV, ratings are all that matter. You have to keep revving up the drama to keep the audience interested. So it wasn’t enough to simply announce that the most coldblooded terrorist on the planet had been killed by courageous American forces, he had to go beyond that. And he did. He added a Hollywood ending. And like most Hollywood endings, it was fiction.
Unless you’ve been in a coma, you know that Donald Trump is chronically dishonest. He’s the man who was prominent in the so-called birther movement, which put forth the phony story that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. He’s the man who claimed to have seen “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering in New Jersey the day the World Trade Center towers came crashing down. The Washington Post has counted 13,000 false or misleading statements the president has made since he took office.
What is fascinating is not so much how dishonest this man is but how so many supporters accept his lies and casually move on. They just don’t care.
Trust me, my friends, I understand that the president’s most loyal followers believe that even a man of Donald Trump’s dubious character is better than any of the Democrats who want his job. They believe that President Trump presides over an economy that is good for them and their families. And they also believe that a President Warren (or just about any of the others) would try to put through policies that would wreck the economy and do damage to their wellbeing.
I’ll take Donald Trump any day, they’re saying, over a left wing party that wants to give free health care to illegal aliens.
That’s not an unreasonable way to look at things. Politics often offers us inconvenient choices. Just think back to the presidential race in 2016.
Still, the truth matters. Just as a free country can’t survive in the long run without ... not just a free press, but also an honest press ... neither can it survive without the truth coming out of the highest levels of government.
In a free country we need a mainstream press that we can believe; it’s one of the most important ways in a democracy the people can know what’s really going on and make decisions based on solid information.
And even if you believe Donald Trump is better than the alternatives, if we don’t know what to believe when the president speaks, we’ll believe anything, or maybe nothing.
And how is that good for the long term health of our country?