By Lauren Leazenby
In Brooklyn, New York, a 50-foot temporary art installation took over a wall outside a local shop: a color-coded chronicle of each of reportedly 20,000 lies President Trump has told since taking office in 2017.
Presidents’ lies have come to define their presidencies in retrospect: Richard Nixon said he was “not a crook.” Ronald Reagan claimed he “did not trade arms for hostages” in the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton told the American people he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, and Barack Obama assured citizens that they could keep their health insurance plans under Obamacare.
According to the Washington Post, which keeps an updated list of each of Trump’s reported falsehoods, the President has made 20,055 false or misleading claims in 1,267 days in office.
The Washington Post also fact-checks these claims. Some of Trump’s oft-repeated falsehoods include that he built the best economy in U.S. history — a claim he made at least 360 times as of early July. According to the Washington Post, COVID-19 aside, the U.S. economy has not seen the same level of growth as it did under Eisenhower, Johnson or Clinton.
Some of Trump’s claims surrounding COVID-19 are pieces of misinformation and have become food for conspiracy theories, according to The Atlantic, which keeps a running fact-checker on Trump’s COVID-19 claims. Of these: that children are effectively immune to the virus, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for the virus and that the U.S. saw an increase in cases because of widespread testing — all of which are, at least in part, false.
At other points, Trump’s falsehoods appear to be conspiracy theories of whole cloth, like “Obamagate,” according to an Associated Press fact-check. According to the AP, there is no evidence to suggest that former President Barack Obama broke any law during Trump’s 2016 campaign — despite Trump’s claim that the Obama administration committed the “biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.”
Lies are not Trump’s alone. In the run-up to the 2020 election, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has also spread his share of falsehoods.
Many are wrapped up in broad statements, like his claim in the September CNN Town Hall that, if Trump had “done his job” in regards to COVID-19, everyone would still be alive. PolitiFact reports this as false; experts say that even in the best-case handling of the virus, there still would have been unpreventable deaths. Others are claims that are factually false, according to a CNN fact-check, like Biden’s statement that the U.S. Trade deficit is at an all-time high under Trump.
Lies have plagued this presidential campaign on both ends — but rather than characterizing either candidate, it seems that the lack of facts instead characterizes the current state of politics.
“The notion that a good president doesn’t lie to the American people — that’s an illusion,” wrote John Blake in a 2013 CNN article exploring the rise of dishonesty in politics. Even in the pre-Trump era, the conversation about lying in politics wasn’t centered around whether a president should lie, but rather whether their lies are “forgivable” from the standpoint of the American public.
Journalist and author Peter Pomerantsev asserts that we are living in a “post-truth” era of politics in which political discourse happens chiefly as an appeal to emotion rather than in service of the truth. Pomeranstev said, now, more importance is placed on the “truth behind the words” than on the truth itself, leading to what seems like an increase of lies in the political sphere.
It’s not so much what politicians are saying, he said, but what the public is hearing.