Some day historians will look back on the Donald J. Trump White House years and write about how he broke the mold, not just for presidents, but for people in public life generally. Confronted with a falsehood, President Trump doesn’t back down, he doesn’t equivocate, he doesn’t offer excuses. No, he sticks to his guns and keeps repeating the same lies over and over again. That’s the essence of alternative facts, but there needs to be a new designation for alternative facts that are repeated so often and with such conviction and yet remain so clearly false that hearing them for the umpteenth time leaves the listener absolutely stupefied. Call them uber-alternative facts, zombie-facts or Franken-facts, they just can’t be killed.
Such is the case with that golden oldie that President Trump trotted out Tuesday concerning the child separation policy at the nation’s southern border. His claim (and stop us if you’ve heard this before — please, stop us) is that the policy originated with President Barack Obama. That’s right. Those youngsters yanked from their rightful parents, often while seeking legal asylum in the United States? That was during the two terms the president Mr. Trump claimed was born in Kenya lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Now what makes this claim so insidious is that there’s a nugget of truth here but only the tiniest of one. That is to say that children were sometimes separated from adults at the border in limited cases such as suspected human trafficking or when family ties appeared doubtful or they were simply unaccompanied minors, a practice that took place during George W. Bush’s presidency as well. What raised a furor, and caused the number of incarcerated children to skyrocket, was the so-called “zero tolerance” policy begun in pilot program in 2017 and then greatly expanded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions one year ago. Under this wholly Trump administration policy, all adults crossing the border illegally were treated as criminals and their children housed apart from them. This affected thousands of children and it was handled so poorly that the Department of Homeland Security still hasn’t offered a full accounting of how many youngsters were involved and whether they were all successfully reunited with their families. The president ended the practice last summer.
Yet there was Mr. Trump at a photo op at the White House this week with Egypt’s president telling reporters that he was the one who corrected an Obama transgression. "I'm the one that stopped it," President Trump boasted. "President Obama had child separation."
No, he didn’t. And to make President Trump’s response all the more ridiculous, it should be noted that the original practice — separating children from adults in suspected human trafficking cases — still goes on, thankfully. So not only did the Obama administration not create the problem, Mr. Trump hasn’t abandoned what limited child separation policies the Obama administration actually endorsed. It’s like President Trump has a catchy song stuck in his head and keeps repeating it. That the tune isn’t true matters not one whit. We’re all getting either rick-rolled or gas-lighted (if you prefer references to movies over those involving YouTube videos) whether we like it or not.
Naturally, this isn’t the first time Mr. Trump has trotted out this alternative fact. He does it all the time. “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.,” he tweeted on May 26, 2018 which was just a few weeks before a full-blown national outcry caused him to sign an executive order ending his administration’s practice of routinely taking children away from their parents. Now, that’s chutzpah. Indeed, a Washington Post fact checker found at least eight other times when the president tweeted or said something similar. “We’ve given these claims as many Pinocchios as we can possibly muster,” reporter Salvador Rizzo wrote Wednesday.
Face it, fact checkers of the world: President Trump can’t be embarrassed into telling the truth. He is beyond that. And we will wager that his views on child separation — that he is a rescuer, not the perpetrator — will only get further embellished as the 2020 election draws near. Name a president who can prevaricate like that. See? In the alternative facts world, this is a man who deserves to be in a cage all by himself.