Trump Wages a Strategic War on Truth (While He Continues to Spread 'Fake News')
March 20, 2017
Robert Reich / The San Francisco Chronicle
Commentary: Donald Trump and his White House don't engage in dialogue. Instead, they attack the institutions that uncomfortable cite facts the Trump Team doesn't like. Trump's big lies subvert truth and sow confusion. These attacks on the institutions we rely on as sources of the truth are even more dangerous, because they make it harder for the public to believe anything. In a democracy, the truth is a common good but Trump is actively destroying the truth-telling institutions on which our democracy depends.
Trump's War on the Truth-tellers
Robert Reich / The San Francisco Chronicle
(March 14, 2017) -- Donald Trump and his White House don't argue on the merits. Instead, they attack the institutions that come up with facts and arguments they don't like.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned last week that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office couldn't be trusted to come up with accurate numbers about the costs and coverage of the Republicans' replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
"If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place," he said.
So what's the right place? The Oval Office?
Bear in mind that the director of the CBO is a Republican economist and former George W. Bush administration official who was chosen for his position by the Republican Congress in 2015.
No matter. The White House is worried about what the CBO will say about Trumpcare, so it throws the CBO under the bus before the bus arrives.
Trump couldn't care less about the long-term consequences, but the rest of us should. For more than four decades, the US budget process has depended on the CBO's analyses and forecasts. The office has gained a reputation for honesty and reliability under both Republican and Democratic appointees. Now, it's tainted. This has been Trump's M.O. since he first met a fact he didn't like.
When candidate Trump didn't like the positive employment numbers out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed the economy improving under the Obama administration, what did he do? He called the official unemployment rate "such a phony number," "one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics" and "the biggest joke there is."
On Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, Trump's budget director, accused the Obama administration of doctoring federal data to minimize the number of Americans out of work.
"We've thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate, that percentage rate, look smaller than it actually was," Mulvaney told CNN's Jake Tapper.
It's possible to take issue with the ways the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment, but why undermine public trust in the bureau itself?
Of course, when February's job numbers turned out rosy, Trump's White House embraced the monthly employment report. But the damage has been done. The BLS looks political.
Spicer tries to wrap Trump's institutional attacks in populist garb. In January, he said: "I think (Trump) addressed that in his inaugural speech when he talked about shifting power outside of Washington, D.C., back to the American people because for too long it's been about stats . . . and it's been about, what number are we looking at as opposed to what face are we looking at?"
Rubbish. The only way we can understand the true dimensions of the problems real people face is with data about these problems, from sources the public trusts.
But if the credibility of those sources is repeatedly called into question by the president of the United States, the public may lose confidence in those sources -- and therefore no longer believe the problem exists.
When Trump disagreed with judicial findings about his original travel ban, he didn't offer any reasons or analyses. Instead, he called the judge who issued the stay a "so-called judge" and attacked the appellate judges who upheld it as "so political" they weren't "able to read a statement and do what's right."
When he blamed the intelligence agencies for the downfall of his first national security adviser, he didn't spell out why. He just attacked them, issuing disparaging tweets with "intelligence" in quotation marks.
When he dislikes press reports, Trump doesn't try to correct them. He assails the press as "the enemy of the American people," "dishonest," purveyors of "fake news," and "the opposition party," and questions their motives (they "have their own agenda, and it's not your agenda, and it's not the country's agenda").
When polls show that he has a low approval rating, Trump doesn't say he expects the rating to improve. He attacks the entire polling industry, asserting that "any negative polls are fake news."
When scientists come up with conclusion he disagrees with, he doesn't offer other credible sources of scientific data. He attacks science.
Trump thinks climate change is a hoax. His new head of the Environmental Protection Agency asserted last week that climate change isn't caused by human activity.
What does the Trump administration do to prove the point? Nothing. Instead, it tells EPA staffers to remove pages from the EPA's website concerning climate change, and threatens to review all the agency's data and publications, and proposes to cut the budgets of all scientific research in government.
Trump's big lies are bad enough because they subvert the truth and sow confusion. But Trump's attacks on the institutions that we rely on as sources of the truth are even more dangerous, because they make it harder for the public to believe anything.
In a democracy, the truth is a common good. Trump is actively destroying the truth-telling institutions on which our democracy depends.
© 2017 By Robert Reich
3 Terrifying Possible Reasons for
Trump's Rant about Obama
Robert Reich / The San Francisco Chronicle
(March 10, 2017) -- On Saturday last weekend, Donald Trump alleged in a series of tweets that former President Barack Obama orchestrated a "Nixon/Watergate" plot to tap Trump's phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election. Trump concluded that the former president is a "Bad (or sick) guy!"
Last Sunday morning, Trump's White House called for a congressional investigation.
Trump cited no evidence for his accusation.
Folks, we've got a huge problem on our hands. Either:
1. Trump is more nuts than we suspected -- a true delusional paranoid. Trump's outburst was seemingly triggered by commentary March 3 in the alt-right publication Breitbart News, which reported an assertion made the night before by right-wing talk-radio host Mark Levin suggesting that Obama and his administration used "police state" tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team's dealings with Russian operatives.
If this was the case, we've got a president willing to put the prestige and power of his office behind baseless claims emanating from well-known right-wing purveyors of lies. Which means Trump shouldn't be anywhere near the nuclear codes that could obliterate the planet, or near anything else that could determine the fate of America or the world.
2. The second possibility is that Trump is correct, and the Obama administration did in fact tap his phones. But if this was the case, before the tap could occur, Trump was likely to have committed a very serious crime, possibly treason.
No president can order a wiretap on his own. For federal agents to obtain a wiretap on Trump, the Justice Department would first have had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence of probable cause to believe Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.
In which case we have someone occupying the Oval Office who shouldn't be making decisions that could endanger America or the world.
3. The third possible explanation for Trump's rant is that he's trying to divert public attention from the Jeff Sessions imbroglio and multiple investigations of Trump associates already found to have been in contact with Russian agents during the election, at a time when Russian operatives interfered with the election on Trump's behalf.
Maybe he's trying to build a case that the entire Russia story is a plot concocted by the Obama administration -- along with the intelligence agencies and the mainstream media -- to bring Trump down. That way, he can inoculate himself against more damaging evidence to come.
But if it's all a big show to divert attention and undermine the credibility of the intelligence agencies and the media, Trump is willing to do anything to keep his job -- even if it means further dividing America, undermining trust in our governing institutions, and destroying the fabric of our democracy.
So there you have it. Whatever the reason for Trump's rant, America is in deep trouble. We have a president who is either a dangerous paranoid who's making judgments based on right-wing crackpots, or has in all likelihood committed treason, or is willing to sacrifice public trust in our basic institutions to further his selfish goals.
Each of these possible reasons is as terrifying as the other.
But for Democrats to be the only ones sounding the alarm risks turning it into a new normal of partisanship. For Obama himself to respond to Trump's latest rant would only dignify it.
So the responsibility falls to Republican leaders. They must stand up and call this what it is: dangerous demagoguery.
We are depending on former Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, former Republican senators and members of Congress, and current Republican senators and members of Congress, to have the courage and decency to stop this outrage.
We are in a serious crisis of governance, and their voices are critical.
Copyright 2017 Robert Reich
Robert Reich, a former US Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. His daily blog is at www.facebook.com/RBReich/. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at http://bit.ly/SFChronicleletters