Three years ago today (1-20-20) Donald Trump took the oath of office and then proceeded to give an inaugural address that was the most caustic and bizarre from any of the ones given by his predecessors. Starting in less than 24 hours of this post being written his impeachment trial begins in the United States Senate.
For all the constitutional strains that our nation has confronted, along with the attempted destruction of our institutional norms, we can say with some confidence that the checks and balances of our federal system is working. The removal of Trump from office by the means afforded to congress through the Founders will not take place. But the harsh unrelenting attention from the press and the voters does create tension for Trump and those who do his bidding by letting them know we are not going to ease off the gas pedal of oversight.
Part of the reason so much chaos and confusion has been created by Trump is to make the sky hazy and less clear for the light of oversight to do its job. Keeping his base under the illusion that what he says is accurate, and all that is presented as facts and reason by everyone else is nothing but ‘fake news’ is an awful way to operate from the White House. The demographics of his base, however, show as to why this strategy has actually worked.
But for the rest of us, there are those pesky facts. The actual statements that Trump has made either on a stage, press release, tweet, or when speaking off-the-cuff in front of a reporter. The statements are on tape, in print, and not able to be refuted.
Trump has used lies and false statements more than any other person who has sat in the White House. In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims.
In other words, in a single year, the president said more than total number of false or misleading claims he had made in the previous two years. Put another way: He averaged six such claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 a day in 2019.
As of Jan. 19, his 1,095th day in office, Trump had made 16,241 false or misleading claims. Only 366 days to go — at least in this term.
The president added to his total on Sunday evening with more than 20 Trumpian claims — many old favorites — during a triumphant speech at the annual conference of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He incorrectly described trade agreements — suggesting Canadian dairy tariffs were eliminated and an agreement with Japan to reduce tariffs on $7 billion of farm products was “a $40 billion deal” — and also falsely asserted that “tough” farmers and ranchers were crying as he signed a repeal of Obama-era regulations. A video of the event shows no one crying.
As with so much that happens on a daily basis from Trump’s White House there is always a way to reach back into history to find a lesson.
I am reading a book about George Washington’s efforts to ready his army to fight the British in New York in 1776. Over and over he stresses he wants men of character and wishes for virtue to be leading them as they conduct themselves in a large city–far different than the places most of the men hail from. He knows the temptations they face, and in many cases, the lack of training they have for the mission to be faced. But he wishes to see them have their internal character lead them onwards.
How far different a man Washington was compared to Trump, an ego-driven shallow man, who now faces a trial in the United States Senate for abusing his office. How far adrift we are from the men whose names are on the streets in my Madison isthmus neighborhood, the signers of the Constitution. Being a life-long history buff, at times talking about the Founding Fathers by their first names, and deeply wedded to a process in governing that demands for transparency and fairness, means what has happened over the past three years due to Trump is deeply troubling.
Walking my neighborhood each day with reminders of the people who gave so much to create a nation, and a way of making government operate is no small thing. It may seem old-fashioned to convey such thoughts as we prepare for an impeachment trial. Or it may be that we are at this place in our nation as we have forsaken virtue in those we elect to lead us.
And so it goes.