Warm water, rotation and cooling atmospheric temperatures create ideal conditions for a traditional hurricane. For an equally fierce storm of alternative facts, you need a blowhard, an election and a complete disdain for reality. Such was the case this week as President Donald Trump seemed to dial up the prevarication from steady bloviation to full-force bellow and rant as Nov. 6 approaches. And like any major storm, it was both stunning and a bit scary to behold.
Take, for example, President Trump’s promise of a 10-percent middle class tax cut, a measure that not only does not exist on paper but even if it did literally could not be approved by an out-of-town Congress between now and Election Day. On Monday, it was a promise. On Tuesday, it morphed into some kind of nonbinding resolution. By Wednesday, it was knocked down to “highly unlikely” by a leading Republican senator. But stay tuned, it might turn into a reduction in payroll taxes by next year.
Or how about those Middle Easterners ferreted away among the 7,000 or more Central Americans on their long, slow march through Mexico? Amid all the hue and cry over how these impoverished families represent an existential threat to the United States was President Trump’s claim that there were “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” participating in the migrant caravan. That proved a particularly tough claim to back up. Even Mr. Trump later admitted that he had no proof (after his press secretary claimed he did). But eventually there was Vice President Mike Pence gamely trying to tell reporters how the president’s off-the-cuff assertion could be absolutely true: “Well, it’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border,” he said.
Perhaps Mr. Pence was thinking about doing a genetic ancestry test and, in Sen. Elizabeth Warren fashion, find some Honduran asylum candidate who actually has Bedouin blood going back six to 10 generations. Hey, if such diversity gets Mr. Pence a boost in his yes-man career, it’s probably worth it.
And then there was this especially weird one: At a rally in Nevada over the weekend, President Trump complained about “sanctuary cities” in California that have become so unpopular in the Golden State that “they’re rioting now.” That sent West Coast reporters scrambling to find a single incident of “rioting” over sanctuary cities, towns or anything else. Churches? Sanctuary McDonald’s? Maybe a sanctuary bus stop? As one might expect, no incidents of rioting over sanctuary anything could be found.
Obviously, conditions are ripe for extreme use of alternative facts. The president seems anxious to run on something other than his record, so he’s searching for the kind of fact-free allegations that served him well in 2016, preferably the kind that scare people into action. The threat posed by immigrants wasn’t enough. They have to be rapists or gang members or al-Qaida. The actual tax cuts approved by Congress were helpful to big business and the wealthiest Americans, but he’s inventing a middle class tax cut to appeal to a broader audience he has judged don’t necessarily care about specifics. The California rioting is just a case of doubling-down on immigration anxiety — with the added benefit of mocking a blue state.
The forecast calls for more of the same over the next 11 days. After all, what’s been the down side of making stuff up so far? This isn’t exactly a new behavior for the Oval Office occupant. Fact-checkers have been keeping a running total of Trump misinformation, and it’s well beyond 5,000 since he took office. Are his supporters especially upset about it? Are members of Congress? GOP leaders? Whatever concerns they had about accuracy and the truth in year’s past seems to have dissipated under the kind of erosion that 150-mile-per-hour bluster will get you. Aides can try to reverse engineer these presidential creations all they want, but most voters have an early warning system for con artistry. The question is whether they’ll seek shelter from the storm until the midterms blow over or brave the elements — no matter their ferocity — and work their way into a voting booth to do something about it.
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.