Tag Archives: lies

“The Black Guy Did It!”

Have you noticed that whenever there is a particularly sharp public outcry over something Donald Trump is doing–a level of pushback that exceeds the expressions of distaste, disagreement and/or horror that regularly greet his version of “policy”–he blames whatever it is on Obama?

The Washington Post gives four Pinocchios to the latest example of Trump’s “don’t blame me, it was the black guy who did it” evasion, his insistence that his inhumane and illegal family separation policy was really Obama’s. They quote him:

“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. … President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?”

Trump keeps doubling down on that falsehood. Every time he is attacked about family separation, he repeats it. As the Post reports,

This is a Four Pinocchio claim, yet Trump keeps repeating it when he’s pressed on family separations.

Repetition can’t change reality. There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In the article, the fact-checker reports that the Obama Administration had actually rejected such a proposal, and that neither the Obama Administration nor the Bush Administration had created or enforced a policy of family separation.

The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.

The article concludes with quotes from Trump–responses to questions, tweets, etc.–documenting the number of times he repeated the lie that the policy was inherited from Obama, and the article links to the copious database of Trump lies that the newspaper maintains.

This particular falsehood illustrates the two utterly reliable aspects of the man who inexplicably occupies the Oval Office: his hatred of Barack Obama (how dare a black man be so obviously superior to him?) and people of color generally; and his inability to tell the truth. (I’m not sure he even recognizes the difference between objective facts and his preferred fantasies.)

The problem is, as Joseph Stiglitz has  recently reminded us,  America’s successes–both moral and economic–have rested on a process of experimentation, learning and adaptation that requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth.

Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and media independence. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.

America’s “greatness” has depended upon–and varied with– the extent to which the nation has adhered to that truth-telling and has honored human rights and the rule of law. Greatness is not a product of bluster, or White Supremacy, or faux Christianity, or the worship of wealth and power and celebrity; it is a product of evidence-based allegiance to individual liberty and civic equality.

If we really want to make America great, we need to eject Trumpism, with its racism and “alternate facts,” not just from the White House, but from American culture.

How The Big Lie Works

Most of us have heard the famous quote by Hitler henchman Joseph Goebbles, who said  “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The importance of repetition to this formula has been confirmed by a recent study  conducted by three scholars at Yale–a psychologist, an economist and a professor of management. They were researching the so-called “fake news” phenomenon in the wake of the 2016 election, and a key conclusion was that repeated exposure to inaccurate or false information makes its acceptance far more likely.

Subjects rate familiar fake news (posts they have seen even only one time before) as more accurate than unfamiliar real news headlines. The perceived accuracy of a headline increases linearly as the number of times a participant is exposed to that headline grows, suggesting “a compounding effect of familiarity across time.”

The research findings suggest that “politicians who continuously repeat false statements will be successful, at least to some extent, in convincing people those statements are in fact true,” and that the echo chambers so many voters inhabit create “incubation chambers for blatantly false (but highly salient and politicized) fake news stories.”

The salience of repeated disinformation makes it incredibly difficult for experts and real journalists to debunk widely accepted beliefs, especially beliefs about the success or failure of complex public policies. I’ve previously cited papers written by Peter the Citizen, the nom-de-plume of a former staff member in the Reagan White House, whose area of expertise is welfare policy. Unlike current Republican lawmakers, Peter is interested in making welfare policies actually work for people in need, and for the past several years he has tried to “speak truth to power”–to call out his fellow conservatives when they engage in self-serving “big lies.”

For example, in response to a publicized interview titled “Maine Shows How To Make Welfare Work,” in which Jared Meyer, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, interviewed Mary Mayhew, former Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Peter meticulously countered what he labeled “conservative talking points and misleading data analyses.”

Another paper, “The Failure of Conservative Welfare Reform is what ‘Traps the Poor in Payouts’: A Response to Adam Brandon,”  responds to–and rebuts– one of the often-repeated assertions that reforms instituted by then-Wisconsin-governor Tommy Thompson improved the lives and incomes of poor people in that state.

As Peter’s research has convincingly demonstrated, when sound methodologies and scholarly rigor are applied, the pat defenses of welfare reform, TANF, and various other punitive state policies prove hollow. They have not incentivized work (after all, the majority of welfare recipients are children, the elderly and the disabled) and they’ve done little or nothing to actually help poor people. Worse, the block grant structure turns funding streams purportedly intended to ameliorate poverty into massive “slush funds” for Governors.

But the “big lie” apparently works as well with policy wonks as with the general public. Repeat sunny but discredited analyses often enough, and they become conventional wisdom. Repeat ridiculous conspiracy theories often enough, and they become memes.

Mitch McConnell and the Administration continue to insist that their “healthcare” bill is better than Obamacare. Rightwing media has repeatedly reported Kellyanne Conway’s denial that Medicaid is being cut.

I have proof that Donald Trump is really an alien. (That explains his inability to spell or use the English language properly.) He was sent from Alpha Centuri to test America’s ability to deal with a destabilizing madman…Post it to Facebook and tell all your friends.

Lying With Impunity

Okay, so here’s what worries me. A lot.

In the most recent GOP debate, we were treated to outright prevarication. Lies. Blatant untruths. The fact that politicians of both parties will lie (this certainly isn’t the first time!) is not what concerns me; what scares the bejeezus out of me is the fact that they can do so secure in the knowledge that very few members of their target audience will know enough to know that they are lying.

Let’s take a few examples.

Take Carly Fiorina (please!). She said she wants to “bring back the warrior class — Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”

In the real world, Petraeus left to head up the CIA, and subsequently resigned after a sex scandal. Keane served under George W. Bush, and resigned in 2003. McChrystal was ousted after Rolling Stone reported comments amounting to insubordination.

Chris Christie boasted about his relationship with Jordan’s King Hussein–“When I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan and I say to him, ‘You have a friend again sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight,’ he’ll change his mind.” Small problem: Hussein’s been dead for 16 years.

Christie also criticized Obama’s “reckless incompetence” for allowing Russia’s “recent partnership” with Syria. That “recent” partnership goes back to 1971, when the USSR established a huge warm-water navy port in Syria. It’s been there ever since.

Several debate participants criticized the Obama administration’s “political correctness,” asserting that such “political correctness” prevented monitoring of social media and was the reason authorities missed “jihadist” postings by the female San Bernadino shooter. Except, as the head of the FBI has patiently explained, there were no such postings.

Factcheck has posted a lengthy list of GOP “misstatements,” ranging from relatively minor errors (as when Rick Santorum–who isn’t going anywhere anyway– said “10 years ago I put the sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program,” when he really sponsored a bill that largely codified existing sanctions) to more consequential assertions (for example, Lindsey Graham repeated the claim that the U.S. spends $350 billion “to buy oil from people who hate our guts,” although over a third of America’s oil imports in 2014 came from Canada, and another 9 percent from Mexico.)

A disquieting number of the misstatements made during the debate cannot fairly be labeled “lies” because those uttering them so clearly had no idea what they were talking about. (“Targeted” carpet-bombing? really?)

And therein lies the real problem. We have these embarrassingly unqualified candidates because we have large numbers of civically-illiterate citizens. People supporting Trump, Cruz, Carson, et al, apparently don’t know when they misstate facts, don’t know when proposals they are applauding (deporting 11 million Mexicans, only allowing Christian Syrians to enter the country, etc.) are impossible or unconstitutional or both.

I am convinced that the voters responding to the ignorance, nationalism and racism being delivered by the “clown car” candidates are a minority. Most Americans are better–and smarter– than that.

The question, however, is: who is more likely to vote?

I Just Don’t Understand

There are a lot of positions conservatives take that I understand, although I disagree with them. There are sincere anti-abortion people who believe life begins at conception, for example. Belief in “fiscal responsibility” leads many people to draw (bad) analogies to household budgets and disputes over what sorts of behaviors actually are fiscally responsible.

I even understand–I think–where less intellectually respectable positions come from. The desire to roll back women’s rights to birth control, equal pay and similar markers of equality, the hysterical response to same-sex marriage (or even equal civil rights) for GLBT folks, the punitive attitudes toward immigrants and similar attitudes are pretty clearly part and parcel of a profound unease with contemporary realities, and a desire to return to a (largely imaginary) past.

But what in the world motivates opposition to mass transit?

A couple of years ago, Chris Christie–the Republican Governor of New Jersey–killed one of the most important transit projects in the country: a tunnel that would have linked his state to Manhattan and relieved the congestion that currently chokes both. At the time, he claimed his reasons were financial–that New Jersey’s share of the costs were simply too high.

Yesterday, it turned out he was lying.  Not mistaken, not misinformed. Lying.

I hope everyone reading this will click through and read the whole report. This is absolutely bizarre behavior, but what makes it worse is a passing reference in the article to the fact that opposition to mass transit has become part of the conservative “creed.”

Why in the world would someone have a philosophical opposition to transit? I certainly understand believing that a particular project is not well thought-out, or too expensive or otherwise flawed, but opposition to all mass transit? To suggest such a belief sounds paranoid.

The tunnel Christie killed is desperately needed, and had been planned for many years. It would have relieved congestion and helped the environment (okay, I realize that conservatives also reject science and the fact of climate change, but still). If built on schedule, it would also have created jobs at a time when those jobs were desperately needed.

I thought Christie was stupid and short-sighted for pulling the plug over up-front costs that would be recouped (many times over) over the long-term. But stupid and short-sighted are explicable; flat-out lying in order to justify an otherwise inexplicable decision is beyond my ability to understand.