I thought January 20 was Joe Biden’s Day. And then came my need to acknowledge the Bernie Memes which have captivated social media. Besides, I figured we’ve had enough of Donald J. Trump.
But eventually I knew it would come time to note that Trump left the stage exactly where he came in four long, dismal years ago. Lying.
At Joint Base Andrews, about to board Air Force One for the flight out of Washington, Trump took credit as he has many times before, for VA Choice and VA Accountability, two laws first passed in 2014 during the administration of President Barak Obama.
The vets have given us an approval rating like it has never been before. We took care of our vets and our beautiful vets, they were very badly treated before we came along. And as you know, we get them great service and we pick up the bill and they can go out and they can see a doctor if they have to wait long periods of time.
Now try if you can to think back to the day after Trump’s inauguration, January 21, 2017. Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer comes out to brief the White House reporters and tells them with a straight face that the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration the day before set a record.
But photos comparing the Trump inauguration with the crowds for President Obama showed clearly that Obama was the bigger draw. Then the White House released obviously doctored pictures faked to make the Trump crowd look larger. This was the opening salvo in what turned out to be four years of lies by the Trump administration. It was like nothing we had ever seen. By the time Trump and his staff were finished with four years of lying with impunity, and falsely accusing responsible fact oriented news media of publishing “fake news,” even seasoned reporters had to wonder what was fact and what was fiction.
There was no better advocate for this systemic lying during the Trump administration than Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s senior advisors and a frequent spokesperson. Kellyanne, who resigned in the waning days of the administration and seems to be trying to rehabilitate her record, was an expert at steamrolling right over interviewers, ignoring their questions to practice “whataboutism,” pointing out alleged untruths told by Trump’s political opponents. In a remarkable interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, she infamously described her obfuscation as the presentation of “alternative facts.”
Keeping track of Trump’s lies became a cottage industry all its own. The Washington Post reported more than thirty thousand in four years.
The biggest lie is the lie that triggered the mob attack on Congress on January 6 in which people died. By 2017 Trump was lying about the 2016 election results, falsely claiming that he not only won the votes in the electoral college but also won the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million.
By 2020, long before the balloting began, Trump was unabashedly laying the groundwork to continue that lie, openly proclaiming that if he won the election was valid but if he lost it would be because the election was fixed. The absurdity of the position not withstanding, Trump’s historic lie drew support from the mob and from members of the Senate and House.
So the Trump administration began in a lie and it ended in a lie. And this should not have been any surprise to people who have followed Trump’s career. I began my reporting on The Donald in 1989, when I arrived in New York as the new bureau chief of the public television program Nightly Business Report. I interviewed Trump in the 1990s. I was with him as he took the inaugural flight of the Trump Shuttle, New York to Boston. I was with him as he cut the ribbon on his casino in Atlantic City. And when he dedicated several residential properties in Manhattan.
But I was also there in various courtrooms as his projects went into bankruptcy. I was in the courtroom on more than one occasion when contractors, suppliers, and other service providers sued Trump for breach of contract. Trump never showed up personally for those sessions. But in many an interview and in his ghost written books he readily admitted that he viewed contracts as a starting point, not an obligation. After the poor counter-party had delivered the goods, Trump would refuse to pay and challenge the guy he had stiffed to sue him.
Things got so bad Trump had trouble finding contractors to work on his properties or banks to loan him money. The regular equity and debt markets were closed to him after a series of defaults. Those defaults have continued.
The Donald Trump who America bought, the one who hosted The Apprentice for eleven years, was not the real Donald Trump. It was an fictitious character constructed by producer Mark Burnett and NBC. Did Trump know he was putting one over on gullible Americans and members of the news media? Or did he come to believe the lie? I’ll leave that to the psychiatrists to figure out.
For now I will exhilarate in the presence of a president and presidential staff which can tell the difference between the lie and the truth, and values the later. After President Biden himself, no one demonstrates this quality better than his wonderful press secretary, Jen Psaski.
No nonsense but with a sense of humor, Psaski brings a wealth of experience to the Jim Brady White House Press Room, where she has reinstated the regular press briefings. She treats the journalists with respect and earns their respect in return. She refuses to traffic in lies and innuendo. She is not afraid to say she does not have information on a subject she is asked but will look into the matter and follow-up. In other words, she is doing exactly what a long line of distinguished presidential press secretaries have done over the years to handle the sensitive relationship between government and the news media. It is a breath of fresh air.
The great American historian Michael Beschloss put it best: