2020-11-19 03:49:31 UTC
Lies, Damned Lies and Trump Rallies
Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?
By Paul Krugman
Oct. 29, 2020
Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Donald Trump lies a lot. In fact, he lies so often that several media
organizations try to keep a running tally, and even try to draw political
inferences from fluctuations in the number of lies he tells in a given
month (although the trend has been relentlessly upward).
But weve crossed some kind of threshold in the past few weeks. Its not
so much that Trump is lying more as that the lies have become
qualitatively different even more blatant, and increasingly untethered
to any plausible political strategy.
Back in the day, Trump lies tended to be those like his repeated claims
that he was about to unroll a health care plan that would be far better
and cheaper than Obamacare, while protecting pre-existing conditions.
Those of us following the issue closely knew that there was no such plan,
indeed that there couldnt be given the logic of health insurance; we also
knew that he had made the same promise many times, but never delivered.
But ordinary voters arent experts in health policy and might not have
remembered all those broken promises, so there was at least a chance that
some people would be fooled.
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In a way, Trumps claims to be the victim of a vast deep state
conspiracy were similar. They were obvious nonsense to people familiar
with how the government actually works. But many voters arent experts in
civics, and the conspiracy theorizing like his claims that all negative
reports are fake news helped shield him from awkward facts.
But Trumps recent lies have been different.
On Tuesday the White House science office went beyond Trumps now-standard
claims that were rounding the corner on the coronavirus and declared
that one of the administrations major achievements was ending the Covid-
Who was that supposed to convince, when almost everyone is aware not only
that the pandemic continues, but that coronavirus cases and
hospitalizations are surging? All it did was make Trump look even more out
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Wait, it gets worse. In last weeks debate, Trump declared that New York
is a ghost town. Eight million people can see with their naked eyes that
On Monday, campaigning in Pennsylvania, Trump repeatedly claimed that
thanks to the states Democratic governor, You cant go to church.
Thousands of churchgoing Pennsylvanians know that this simply isnt true.
On Wednesday, campaigning in Arizona, Trump went on a rant about
California, where you have a special mask. You cannot under any
circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right, right,
Charlie? Its a very complex mechanism. As 39 million California
residents can tell you, nothing remotely like that exists.
Again, who is this supposed to convince? Its hard to see any political
upside to such ludicrous confabulations, which demand that people reject
their own direct experience. All they do I hate to say this, but its
obvious is raise questions about the presidents stability.
So whats going on? Trump wouldnt be the first politician to lash out
wildly in the face of electoral defeat. You wont have Nixon to kick
around anymore. Remember, also, that Roy Moore, defeated in Alabamas
2017 special Senate election, never conceded.
In fact, almost everyone expects the mother of all temper tantrums, quite
possibly including calls for violence, if Trump does, in fact, lose next
week. To some extent he may just be getting an early start.
But theres also, Id argue, something deeper going on. What Trump has
been revealing, more clearly than ever before, is that he has a
After those bizarre claims about California masks, I reread George
Orwells classic essay Looking Back on the Spanish War. Observing
Spains fascists and their fellow travelers including many in the
British press! Orwell worried that the very concept of objective truth
is fading out of the world. He feared a future in which, if the Leader
says that two and two are five well, two and two are five.
The point is that for Trump and many of his supporters, that future has
already arrived. Does he believe that theres any truth behind his bizarre
claims that Californians are being forced to eat through complicated
masks? Thats a bad question, because he doesnt accept that there is such
a thing as objective truth. There are things he wants to believe, and so
he does; there are other things he doesnt want to believe, so he doesnt.
Whats scary about all this isnt just the possibility that Trump may yet
win or steal a second term. Its the fact that almost his entire
party, and tens of millions of voters, seem perfectly willing to follow
him into the abyss.
Indeed, current Republican strategy is almost entirely based on trying to
scare voters about bad things that arent happening like a vast wave of
anarchist violence sweeping Americas cities while not noticing bad
things that really are happening, like the pandemic and climate change.
This strategy may or may not work; this year it probably wont. But either
way, it will poison Americas political life for many years to come.
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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a
Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate
Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his
work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman