In the beginning, they proffered “alternative facts.” Later, they told us that “truth isn’t truth.”
All along, President Trump and his lieutenants were betting that Jonathan Swift was correct when he wrote more than three centuries ago that “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”
But after two long years, the truth is finally catching up with Trump and his winged whoppers.
In recent days, Trump’s bogus claims about the economy, the Russia inquiry, the judiciary, climate change, the midterms, race and national security have been crumbling, publicly, for all to see.
The schoolmarms of the press and the lonely fact-checkers talked themselves hoarse and typed their fingers sore pointing out that Trump seldom spoke the truth — which only prompted Trump to declare any contradiction of him to be “fake news.”
But Americans no longer need trust the media’s word against Trump’s. They can see with their own eyes, if they choose to, that facts are closing in on him from all directions.
Trump may say that this is the “best economy” in history, that his “tariffs are the greatest.” But Americans can now see General Motors, facing some $700 million in higher steel prices because of tariffs, announcing on Monday that it is closing five factories and laying off nearly 15,000 workers. They can also see market gyrations, rising interest rates, rising debt and forecasts for slower growth.
Trump may say the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is a “hoax” by a “conflicted prosecutor gone rogue.” But, after a half-dozen convictions, Mueller’s prosecutors Monday promised a “detailed” court filing outlining lies told them by Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. This, as The Washington Post reported, means “prosecutors may know more about Manafort’s interactions than he realized, allowing them to catch him in alleged lies.”
Trump may say that global warming “could very well go back” to cooling, and “I don’t know that it’s man-made.” But his own administration just declared that humans must act aggressively “to avoid substantial damages” from climate change, warning of losses in the “hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.” (“Yeah, I don’t believe it,” Trump responded.)
Trump may say the midterm elections were “close to a complete victory.” But Americans can see (or they will in January) that Democrats have picked up at least 39 seats in the largest popular-vote victory margin in House history: 8,805,130 (in NBC’s ongoing tally), or an advantage of 8 percentage points.
Trump may claim that “so-called” judges and an “Obama judge” are out to get him. But Americans can see that the judge who ruled against Trump in the CNN press-pass case was appointed by Trump himself — and that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is no liberal, took the rare step of rebuking the president by saying that “we do not have Obama judges or Trump judges.”
Trump may claim, as he did to an overwhelmingly white audience in Mississippi on Monday, that he has been a great president for African-Americans, justifying his campaign pitch to them: “What the hell do you have to lose?” But Americans could see that he was campaigning for a woman who sent her daughter to a segregationist school similar to the one she attended, and also said she would enthusiastically accompany a supporter to a “public hanging.”
And Americans could see Rep. Mia Love, the lone black Republican woman in Congress, say on Monday that Trump has “no real relationships, just convenient transactions,” and that “Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts.” (Later this week, Americans can see whether Senate Republicans confirm a judicial nominee who defended a North Carolina law that had been struck down for disenfranchising black voters “with almost surgical precision.”)
Trump may claim that “we may never know” whether the Saudi crown prince was responsible for the killing of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But Americans can see that Republican senators, briefed on the CIA’s findings, flatly contradict Trump.
If they’re looking closely, Americans may also notice that Trump’s assertions are being contradicted by his own military commanders and his border chief. And, ominously, Americans may observe that Trump’s assertions of the good intentions of Vladimir Putin are being contradicted by the Russian president himself as he provokes a military confrontation with Ukraine.
It is too late to undo much of the damage caused by Trump’s deceptions. But recent days give hope that, though limping and bedraggled, the truth still is the truth.
Follow Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.