Alternative Fact of the Week: Misstate of the Union

A look at some of the exagerrated statements from Trump's first State of the Union address.

Whatever one’s view of Donald first Trump’s State of the Union speech — good, bad or, at 1 hour 20 minutes, gosh-awful long — the nation’s 45th president sure sticks to a falsehood through thick and thin. Sure, there have been presidents who misstated the facts before. State of the Union speeches generally arrive with more spin than a sinking curveball. But even by those standards, Tuesday’s presentation was transcendent, not just for sheer volume of “alternative facts” (the administration’s Kellyanne Conway didn’t coin the term for nothing) but for their unabashed repetition long after they’ve been debunked.

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Add on a K-Tel label and it might have been a double-record album of greatest hits of alternative facts. This was no one-hit wonder, like the fellow who talked about keeping your doctor after changing your insurer. In the right-wing media, they call this kind of behavior at a nationally televised event “salesmanship” and “Reaganesque,” which is a much gentler way of acknowledging the torrent of fabrications that spilled forth from the man standing at the podium in front of a beaming Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. As in K-Tel infomercial fashion, we’d ask: Do you remember what you were doing when he said:

  • “Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs.” Reality: This one is a Trump administration favorite that turns on the definition of “we.” Yes, there have been 2.4 million new jobs added since November of last year, according to the Labor Department, but that includes three months with a different president (who, by the way, saw 2.7 million jobs created in the equivalent 14-month period prior to that).
  • “Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.” Reality: He promised it, yes, but the tax plan that passed in December wasn’t as big as others in the past by any reasonable standard, no matter how often he may insist it was. This is truly the “You Light Up My Life” of Mr. Trump’s tall tales; it gets played over and over and over again.
  • “Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan.” Reality: Absolutely true about Chrysler, but the decision was made in 2015; Mr. Trump wasn’t elected until 2016 and didn’t take office until 2017. Still, a classic example of how he takes credit for things, from lower black unemployment to natural gas exports, that he had little to nothing to do with.
  • “In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration.” Reality: This might be the worst, most loathsome prevarication of them all. While it’s correct that the attacks in question — the subway bombing in which only the alleged perpetrator was injured and the deliberate running over of pedestrians and bicyclists with a rental truck — did involve immigrants who entered through those programs, it’s like suggesting the country can no longer have commercial air travel because a Cessna crashed. In the entire history of those entry programs, there have been four terrorism incidents linked to them, according to a recent government report. Homegrown terrorists have done far, far worse, with more than 85 attacks since 2001, according to the GAO. It makes more sense statistically to ban childbirth in the U.S. if you want to prevent the next generation of evil-doers. It’s like slamming “Dreamers” as gang members (which he also kind of did).

Alas, that’s just a handful of examples. According to our fact-checking colleagues at The Washington Post, there are at least 18 claims that deserve some form of correction from the speech. Politifact’s scoring of the speech was in the same neighborhood as of early Thursday. Some of the most familiar Trump whoppers, like how the average family is getting a $4,000 “raise” this year from the tax plan, have likely been refuted as an overstatement about a billion times (warning: that was hyperbole) but to no avail. Or that the U.S. does more than “any other country” to help the needy when, on a percentage of GDP, the U.S. is in the bottom third of the wealthiest countries for such outreach. If “facts are stubborn things,” as John Adams once observed, Mr. Trump has demonstrated time and again that he is stubborner still.