Liar. Tyrant. Racist. Nazi. These are some of the choice descriptors America’s scribbling class applies to Donald Trump. While they’re busy consuming hours of free coffee shop Wi-Fi and furiously pounding out hyperventilating opinion pieces we decided to look at the eight big lies being told about Donald Trump.
1) He lies all the time. This rings particularly hollow to anyone who has ever followed politics even a little bit. But pundits from Stephen Colbert on the Left to National Review on the Right sling the same mud. These pundits spit it out with such vehemence it’s as if they, like Captain Renault, are shocked, (shocked!) to discover lying in politics. Did they just find out? Do they think their favored candidates don’t lie? Let’s face it, in politics there’s lying and there’s lying. There’s “I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” – he’ll build the wall, but who cares who pays for it? – and there’s “I didn’t have a private email server and I definitely didn’t send national security secrets on the illegal email server that I didn’t have.” Anyone who can’t tell the difference should not comment on politics.
2) He hates the First Amendment. This one is obviously popular among journalists. Trump, they assure us, is one executive order away from seizing printing presses, shutting down the internet, and forcing bloggers out of their basements and back into the labor pool. But what did he actually say? Remarkably little as it turns out. All of the hand wringing revolves around two comments about libel laws. His most recent was an August 14 tweet:
“It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”
The question fair-minded observers should ask:, how does what Trump says compare to existing jurisprudence on the subject? And on that basis, Trump’s comments seem much more benign—and his accusers motives much more malignant—than most of the commentary suggests. Under current law in order to prove that a publisher is guilty of libel against a public figure requires proof of “actual malice” which is defined as “knowing that (a statement) is false or acting with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity.” In that light, Trump’s comments seem to square pretty well with existing law.
3) Trump praised the Tiananmen Square massacre. This seems to be the official position not just of Leftist outlets but also the likes of National Review. NRO editor Charles C.W. Cooke said exactly that. Jonah Goldberg reiterated the charge while participating in a panel at Hillsdale College on Constitution Day.
Here’s what Trump actually said in an interview with Mark Bowden in Playboy:
“You mean firm hand as in China?” Trump answered, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak… as being spit on by the rest of the world… ” [Emphasis added]
To believe the NR slur, you have to believe that when Trump calls the Chinese government’s actions against students in Tiananmen Square “vicious” and “horrible” that he meant it as a compliment. Any honest reader knows he did not, making their claims, at a minimum, mendacious.
Trump’s larger point and the one which his detractors obstinately refuse to see, is that he wants to see an America that is strong and self-confident rather than one that is weak and disrespected. He contrasts the “strength” of the Chinese government, which he describes as “vicious” and “horrible,” with an America he believed was seen as weak. How is a country seen as weak supposed to deal effectively with a regime prepared to use its own strength for such vicious, horrible ends? “Peace through strength,” after all, was at the core of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.
Such straightforward talk makes Leftists and Beltway conservatives uncomfortable. They love Reagan in the rearview mirror but their political forebears—in Mitt Romney’s case, literally his father—were horrified by Reagan, who was portrayed alternately as an unstable cowboy or an amiable dunce. Most ordinary Americans have a natural preference for their own and believe—rightly—that we should keep our own house in order, husband our strength, and use it to advance the interests of our own people. But Beltway types, drunk on a few decades of post-Cold War American hegemony, believe that America can only be good when she is acting in the interest of others and against the self-interest of her own people. They are like the heirs to a great fortune who are completely unaware of how the fortune was earned or what it takes to keep it.
4) Trump is a crypto-fascist in a red power tie. This meme does violence to the threat and memory of actual tyrants and speaks more to the emasculating of American culture than to Trump’s political designs. Trump speaks in the first person and in direct, declarative sentences. He says things like, “I’m going to build the wall” rather than talking in the fuzzy, non-committal third person so common among politicians who don’t want to get pinned down. Trump’s straightforward style is a foreign language to Gen Xers and Millennials for whom irony, serial, parenthetic caveats, and snark are the holy trinity of rhetoric. In most walks of life plain speaking is considered commendable. But in current year politics and our culture our best and brightest can’t tell the difference between a declarative sentence and a tyrant.
5) He’s not really pro-life . Believing this really relies on believing #1, “He’s a liar.” But for people who want to know the truth, the history here is important. It is no secret that as recently as 1999 Donald Trump supported legal abortion but with an important qualifier. Here’s what he told Tim Russert:
“I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still—I just believe in choice. And, again, it may be a little bit of a New York background, because there is some different attitude in different parts of the country…”
This is an unfortunate but common position for many people of Trump’s generation and older – people who came of age before Roe v. Wade, before many people had thought seriously about abortion, and before ultrasounds. The position amounts to, “It makes my stomach turn, but I don’t want to get involved in anyone else’s personal business.” The position is morally untenable, but was common. It’s very similar to the position once held by Ronald Reagan before he underwent his own conversion and is still the stock response from Democrats looking for Roman Catholic votes in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
But Trump changed. In 2011 he told CBN in a lengthy interview, “One thing about me, I’m a very honorable guy. I’m pro-life, but I changed my view a number of years ago.” Trump says he changed his position after seeing and knowing the son of a friend whose mother had considered abortion. He explained to LifeNews that “As I’ve grown older, as I’ve seen things happen in life, I’ve changed my views — and others have also.”
There is no reason other than malignant obstinacy to doubt Trump’s sincerity. And unless you believe the “he’s a liar” meme, it’s out of character. Trump had no political reason to change his views in the mid-2000s – it’s not like he has shown any reticence in smashing Republican shibboleths.
6) Trump can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. This can only mean that he will intentionally or through sheer recklessness or foolishness precipitate a nuclear war. With whom? The idea that Trump would needlessly launch a nuclear first-strike is laughable. Anyone who thinks Donald Trump is that crazy needs to have their own head examined.
The more common version of this is that Trump is a brash, unthinking, buffoon—a cowboy with a big mouth who will instigate an international crisis that will result in another country launching a nuclear strike on the United States. But does this sound plausible to anyone who is stone sober in the cold light of day? Anyone who believes this needs to name names: What country will use nuclear weapons against the United States and how will it be Trump’s fault? And if that country can be named—North Korea? Iran?—are they not already a major threat that needs to be neutralized rather than bribed?
7) Trump is a racist and anti-Semite. Ben Carson doesn’t seem to think so. Neither do other black supporters of The Donald, from Diamond and Silk to Don King, Mike Tyson, and Terrell Owens. And until he ran for president as a Republican, the hip-hop community idolized Trump, dropping his name or naming songs after him no less than 67 times. Artists paying homage to Trump included superstars like Kanye West, Ice Cube, and Lil’ Wayne.
The claim that Trump is a Jew-hater is even more ridiculous. His own daughter, Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. She keeps a kosher home, observes the sabbath, and raises her children—Donald’s grandchildren—as Jews. Ivanka is also one of her father’s most active and powerful surrogates on the campaign trail. Sheldon Adelson, one of this country’s most prominent Jewish Republicans and tireless supporters of Israel doesn’t seem to think Trump is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel either and has pledged millions to support his campaign.
Rather, the accusation of racism is largely based on Trump’s promise to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. To the Left and Davosie Right, this is prima facie evidence of racism. It’s not. Preference for one’s own is not hatred of the other. And being President of the United States requires a preference for the American people and the American nation over all others.
8) Trump is not a conservative. This is a favorite. And if conservatism is defined by the Bushes and their fellow travellers and enablers, it is mostly true. At least, it’s more true than the other accusations which are distortions or outright falsehoods. Still, Trump’s program of secure borders, economic nationalism, and interests-based foreign policy sounds conservative to most ears and hearkens back to an older and more distinctly American conservatism.
The people most likely to claim that Trump is “not a conservative” do so under the false assumption that checklist conservatism is an end in itself and that calling Trump a heretic will win them the day. To take the analogy to its logical conclusion, the accusers are defending the conservative catechism while Trump is defending the church – America – itself. The accusation itself, in the context of this election, is self-referential in the extreme.
Professional conservatives and their followers only seem to talk about saving “conservatism” – whatever that has become – while Donald Trump talks about making America great again. They sound like the promoters of self-interested factions Madison warned about in Federalist 10 while Trump sounds like a patriot. It’s no wonder Trump won the primaries handily.
He spoke to voters as Americans not as members of demographic or ideological factions looking for patronage. What has become clear during this cycle is that where Democrats have led many Republicans have followed. The Left views the country as a mosaic of grievance groups defined by race, class, or sexual preference and has taught the Right to do the same thing, though with a more ideological tinge. Sure, all of these sub-categories exist and are important, but Trump’s common-sense genius is that he understands that the ties that bind are more important. He speaks to Americans not as members of a group but as fellow citizens. The language of Americanism has been unlearned but it is not forgotten. Hearing it again has awakened in many the promise of a greater, more unified, more American nation.