Years from now when historians write the definitive book on alternative facts during the Donald Trump presidency, they’ll face the daunting job of categorizing the prevarications. Will it be the appalling as opposed to the merely peculiar? The grandiose versus the only somewhat egotistical? Or the Mueller investigation and everything else? This past week offered a classic contrast in Trump reality rewrites that stretched from Abraham Lincoln’s poll numbers (we kid you not) to whether collusion is a crime.
President Trump’s Sunday tweet in which he claimed that a recent poll showed him to be more popular among Republicans than Ronald Reagan and Lincoln is false in any number of ways, the most ridiculous being that modern polling wasn’t invented until the mid-1930s when the nation’s 16th president had been dead for 70 years. As for Mr. Trump’s well-worn claim that “collusion isn’t a crime,” which he repeated on Twitter Tuesday (echoing current top mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani), we would humbly suggest he not get too caught up in semantics. There is a crime called conspiracy, which comes awfully close to the dictionary definition of collusion, which is to “conspire for fraudulent purposes.”
In other words, you say conspire, we say collude, let’s call the whole thing a matter for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to figure out — once he sorts through all the various contacts between Russians and representatives of the Trump campaign.
Still, for sheer ridiculousness, it’s hard to beat President Trump’s claim made Tuesday at a “Make America Great Again” political rally in Tampa that you need photo ID to buy groceries in this country. Yes, he actually said that. “If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID.”
Here’s what makes that claim a great alternative fact. First, it’s untrue, and everyone knows it, at least everyone whose been inside a supermarket, which is 99 percent of the public. Second, it was offered in the context of a more consequential lie — that the United States has some disastrous problem with voters showing up at the polls claiming to be someone they are not. This has been demonstrated again and again to be a falsehood. The phenomenon is, at worst, a rarity, and clerical errors (that show a dead person voting, for example) are the far more likely explanation of irregularities. The only really meaningful effect of requiring ID is to discourage voting, particularly by the poor and minorities who don’t routinely have driver’s licenses.
That means President Trump essentially lied trying to tell a lie. The customary claim of those whose true agenda is to tilt elections toward the GOP is to say something along the lines of: Well, you need photo ID to (insert your favorite ID-related activity here) rent a car or get a library card or check into a hotel. Mr. Trump chose buying groceries — likely because the 72-year-old real estate developer and reality television star hasn’t been in a grocery since the days when people pulled out their checkbooks and driver’s licenses (if he’d spent much time in them ever).
But what really elevates this particular alternative fact to the top shelf is the White House’s subsequent effort to explain the president’s misadventures in the English language. After initially scoffing that the whole grocery ID business was important, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders eventually explained to reporters that Mr. Trump was referring to the purchase of alcohol. “Certainly if you go to a grocery store and you buy beer and wine you’re certainly going to show your ID.”
Yes, sure, that was probably it. Mr. Trump was buying alcohol and got carded, and now he associates every trip to the grocery store with getting carded. What clerk wouldn’t have carded that familiar-looking elderly gentleman buying the six-pack of Bud? Never mind that the president famously doesn’t drink alcohol. And, finally, how fitting that the Trump fanatics in attendance at the Florida rally did not appear the least bit bothered by such an obvious gaffe despite their personal knowledge of grocery shopping? Trump supporters don’t take their guy literally. The Washington Post recently tallied the total for Trump false and misleading claims to date at 4,229. As weird as this particular one might be, it will be lucky to make the historical footnotes at the current rate.
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