Following publication of an anonymous New York Times Op-Ed written by a member of his own administration that portrayed him as an unmoored, amoral leader whose decisions needed vetting — and sometimes ignoring — President Donald Trump struck back in way that, if anything, would give one further pause.
First was the setting — an event with sheriffs who had gathered Wednesday at the White House for an awards presentation in which they suddenly became the unwitting Greek chorus in the president’s paean to himself, one so fact-challenged that it bears a closer look.
Then came Trump’s unspooling of a list of achievements designed, in his mind, to lift him far above his detractors. It has become a common tactic for him, but more grandiose with each rendition. For instance: “Nobody has done what this administration has done in terms of getting things passed.” This has been repeated often enough that it merits some context. President Lyndon Johnson — a man of no small ego — pushed through landmark civil rights and voting rights acts, a major tax cut, a major immigration bill that removed racial and ethnic barriers, created Head Start, enacted Medicare and Medicaid and more, with far less back-patting.
Trump laid claim to creating nearly 4 million jobs in 20 months, a figure he previously has called “unthinkable.” The fact is, President Barack Obama in the previous 20-month period could boast 4.3 million jobs created. Both presidents have enjoyed the benefits of one of the longest economic recoveries in history.
Aside from the many outright falsehoods this president has told, Trump routinely takes the nugget of a fact, strips it of context, embellishes beyond all reason, then rolls it out in an attempt to elevate himself above all others. The practice may stir crowds at his call-and-response rallies, but does little to elevate his stature among those who know better. At the sheriffs’ event, he made an oft-repeated claim of “more Americans now employed than ever recorded in our history.” There’s a simple explanation for that. There are more Americans than ever. Adjusted for population growth, the U.S. hit peak workforce participation in the late 1990s.
Trump says that “3.9 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps since my election” and previously said such a drop was “something you haven’t seen in decades.” But such numbers frequently bounce up and down with the economy. The last such drop was 3.5 million, occurring between 2013 and 2016.
Trump again claimed to have “started the wall” that would separate the U.S. from Mexico. A Republican Congress has allocated no money for the massive project Trump proposed as a candidate.
Turning to the sheriffs, Trump said that “all of you people have benefited tremendously from the tax cuts.” What has become known since passage is that only the nation’s wealthiest can lay claim to benefits in the tremendous range. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has said that an average household earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would see about $870. A household with income of $1 million would get nearly $70,000.
He repeated the oft-debunked claim that the “failing” New York Times had been forced to apologize for its election coverage of him. The paper made no such apology. His poll numbers were “through the roof,” he said. Actually, each of the previous 11 presidents had higher approval numbers at this point in their terms than Trump. You have to go back to Harry Truman to find a president with a lower approval rating.
To dust off an old phrase, this president has a credibility gap that is fast becoming a chasm, and one largely of his own making. If he is to re-establish himself among his own Cabinet and the American people at large, a good first step might be to discard the hucksterism and discover the simple virtue of sticking to verifiable facts.