What’s So Bad About Donald Trump? (Part 1)

9 mins read

All of us likely have “that friend.” That friend that we respect a great deal, whom we wish we could spend more time with, but who also exasperates us with their seeming inattention to the news of the day. Frequently that friend will ask us something like this: “What’s so bad about Donald Trump? It seems like everyone’s just going overboard with criticism. Why don’t people give him a chance? It’s so sad.”

All of us likely have “that friend.” That friend that we respect a great deal, whom we wish we could spend more time with, but who also exasperates us with their seeming inattention to the news of the day. Frequently that friend will ask us something like this: “What’s so bad about Donald Trump? It seems like everyone’s just going overboard with criticism. Why don’t people give him a chance? It’s so sad.”

This series of articles is intended to be a guide and a resource for answering that deceptively difficult question – it’s not difficult to point to a bad thing, of course, there is an inexhaustible plenitude. What’s difficult is boiling it down to a few major points, providing trustworthy evidence, and stripping it of the hyperbole that puts people on the defensive.

So here goes. What’s so bad about Donald Trump?

Part 1 – The Lying

Donald Trump lies. A lot. The Washington Post keeps a running tally of his lies, and it has reached 12,019 since he became president, or about 13 lies per day. See here:

Now, I can imagine someone responding: “Come on, all presidents lie. People are just piling on Trump because they dislike him.”

Well, there are two things to consider here. First off, “someone else did it too” is a very thin ethical justification for an action or series of actions. Wrong is wrong, no matter how you slice it. But secondly, and more importantly, there is a particularly pernicious character to Trump’s falsehoods. They tend to strike at several core features of our society and system of government, and as such they erode our faith in that government, and sometimes in truth itself.

I’d like to point out a few lies in particular that have this characteristic.

Trump has taken to claiming that California had millions of illegal votes cast in 2016. He is very sensitive about his popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton, it seems, and he reaches for justifications and alternative storylines that cast him as the rightful victor in the popular vote. See also here.

The pernicious nature of this lie is that it uses the power of the presidency to call into doubt the veracity of our electoral results. A bedrock principle of our democracy has always been “one person, one vote.” It took a long while and many battles for that franchise to be extended to all the persons it should have been, but the faith that our citizens have in their democratic franchise is crucial to the health of our nation. The presidency is a particularly powerful “bully pulpit,” and using it to increase distrust in the very democracy that placed the president there is something that past presidents simply have not done. What happens when people feel in large numbers that their vote has been stolen from them or nullified? It has happened over and over in the last century around the world. The democracy in question loses its legitimacy and frequently slides into violence or dictatorship. Examples like Venezuela, Egypt, Libya, Russia, and Poland should serve as dire warnings – we cannot undermine the people’s faith in the outcome of elections without risking dire consequences.

Another lie I’d like to focus on has to do with climate change. Trump claimed that the Earth is not warming consistently, and that in fact the polar ice caps are “at record levels”. In fact, they are at record levels – record lows, and the Earth is consistently warming.

The pernicious nature of this lie is that it calls into doubt the veracity of science and scientific data. Climate change is scary and confusing at times, which makes sense given what a big problem it is. The presidency is uniquely situated to deliver messages to the public and shape their perception of facts. Using it to muddy the waters of rock solid science is dangerous and has real consequences. Anti-vaccine ideology (something that Trump has engaged with in the recent past) has a similar impact, muddying the waters and leading to outbreaks of preventable diseases.

Occasionally, people will defend Trump’s persistent lies by claiming that he “should not be taken so literally” and that he speaks in a way that liberals consistently misconstrue. Trump’s current press secretary (his fourth in a little over 2.5 years) Stephanie Grisham has made this argument. So let’s grant the premise: let’s say for the sake of argument that Trump is continually misunderstood because people take him literally when he is speaking in a way to which they are unaccustomed to hearing from a president.

Is this what we want from a leader? Someone who is continually misinterpreted because of his jokes, his forgetfulness, or his tendency to engage in baseless hypotheticals? I put the question to you this way: If Donald Trump claimed tomorrow that a country attacked us and that we must go to war with them, would you believe him, unequivocally? If the answer is anything less that “Yes, absolutely,” can you see the problem with that? We need a president to be basically trustworthy, because of the important messages he or she must regularly deliver to people in the US and around the world.

The United States needs to be able to trust that its president has both a basic grasp of the facts of the world, and that he or she is relaying them to us truthfully. No reasonable person can place that trust in Donald Trump.

Next: Part 2 – Corruption

Here is a handy repository of Trump’s false statements on Politifact:
https://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/byruling/pants-fire/?page=1

WaPo lie tracker: https://beta.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/12/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/

Trump Vaccine denial: https://beta.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-urges-measles-vaccinations-despite-his-past-views-of-a-link-to-autism/2019/04/26/59150224-682c-11e9-8985-4cf30147bdca_story.html

Trump Iran credibility gap: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/14/us/politics/trump-iran-credibility.html

Trump taken too literally: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/08/trumps-new-press-secretary-says-he-never-lies.html

Trump climate change claims: https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/jan/29/donald-trump/trump-gets-polar-ice-trend-backwards/

Global warming data: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/2018-fourth-warmest-year-ever-noaa-nasa-reports/

False vote claims: https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/apr/06/donald-trump/no-proof-trumps-claim-millions-voted-many-times/
https://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2019/jun/24/donald-trump/pants-fire-trumps-latest-california-voter-fraud-cl/


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