Over the last 31 months, we have gotten to examine alternative facts both large and small, some of consequence, some more amusing than troublesome. Numbers have been misstated, individuals misquoted, history misrepresented. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Donald Trump will make some outrageous, patently false claim and then wrap himself with it, happily parading like a naked emperor convinced he’s dressed in gold lamé finery. But rarely have we had an opportunity to involve our readers in the full lifespan of alternative fact from birth to full maturity as we have witnessed this week.
Speaking to reporters about gun violence legislation outside the White House on Wednesday, President Trump acknowledged that there is “no political appetite” for an assault weapons ban in the wake of attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. But background checks? Well, that is a different story, the president revealed. It was a response that deserves to be cross-stitched, framed and hung on the nearest wall.
“There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks,” he announced, “and I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before. I think both Republican[s] and Democrat[s] are getting close to a bill on, to doing something with background checks.”
Let’s classify that claim as doubtful or about as likely as discovering aerially gifted swine hovering overhead. Oh, Democrats support universal background checks all right. The House passed such a measure in February. It’s been sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s inbox ever since. Senator “Moscow Mitch” is going to get that baby going through his chamber and onto the president’s desk when they pry it from his cold, NRA-indentured hand. Never mind his own claims of seeking “bipartisan discussions of potential solutions.”
But what’s noteworthy here is that, technically, Mr. Trump’s statement isn’t false yet. Maybe he really is hankering for more background checks for gun purchases in the same way he craves validation on “Fox & Friends." But what’s the over/under on this particular craving? A day? A week? As public upset over mass shootings wanes and the GOP endorses some NRA-approved nothing-burger of a red flag bill aimed at the severely mentally ill, maybe, you can bet the presidential appetite will be sated. He’ll then be on to the next promise or unsubstantiated accusation. This is how alternative facts are created, serve their purpose and then quietly exit stage right.
Never mind that the vast majority of Americans, including most gun owners, would absolutely endorse universal background checks. As various polls have demonstrated in recent years, public support for background checks hovers in the 86-94% range. Not a lot of public policies test higher. It’s more than twice the percentage of Americans who think illegal immigration is a serious problem, according to Rasmussen Reports. Republicans would not be risking much, if anything, politically by supporting such a measure. Too bad their gun lobby masters would never permit it. As President Trump himself observed to the NRA convention in April: “I’ll never let you down. Never let you down. I haven’t so far, and I won’t. Because as the famous saying goes, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Very simple.”
And, of course, it’s not as if the president hasn’t shown a disdain for background checks of all stripes before. He reportedly overruled intelligence agencies to make sure son-in-law Jared Kushner got top-secret security clearance despite issues arising from his background check. Reporters uncovered evidence of similar presidential behavior on behalf of his daughter Ivanka Trump as well. And even his concern about individuals with mental disorders buying firearms is suspect. Two years ago, he signed into law legislation that stopped the Social Security Administration from sharing information about mentally disabled beneficiaries with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That made the NRA happy, too.
It gives us no pleasure to know with great certainty that the president of the United States is full of it when it comes to any promised leadership on gun violence, including common sense measures that attempt to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. We’ve seen this performance too many hundreds of times not to recognize a well-worn pattern. Whatever “appetite” President Trump claims to have today will be gone soon enough.