Some others can't tell the truth: Rather famously, George Washington, the nation's first president, couldn't tell a lie.
We know that because he said so—more precisely, because he was said to have said so. At any rate, Washington's reported statement defined a powerful norm. It was long believed to be a virtue—public figures should tell the truth.
"I will never lie to you?" In 1976, Candidate Carter actually did say that, or at least we think he did. Indeed, as recently as 1999 and 2000, reporters were so committed to the concept of telling the truth that they invented a series of lies by Candidate Gore, then complained about the mere idea that he had actually told them!
In those days, telling the truth was a powerful press corps norm. Now, we have Donald J. Trump, whose behavior lies so far outside traditional norms that it's hard to know how to describe it.
At New York magazine, Eric Levitz noticed something we noticed too. He noticed Trump's latest strange account of the size of his win over Candidate Clinton.
Trump's latest alleged strange account was allegedly made this Monday. This is The Hill's account of what Trump said after Monday's vote by the electoral college, a satellite campus of the better-known Trump University:
HELLMAN (12/19/16): President-elect Donald Trump touted his Electoral College victory Monday as a "historic electoral landslide" and a next step toward a brighter future.According to The Hill's Jessie Hellmann, Trump said that in a statement! She's in her second year out.
"I thank the American people for their overwhelming vote to elect me as their next President of the United States," Trump said in a statement.
"The official votes cast by the Electoral College exceeded the 270 required to secure the presidency by a very large margin, far greater than ever anticipated by the media."
Hellmann didn't provide a link to Trump's alleged statement. Having said that, she's hardly alone. In the past few days, we haven't been able to find anyone who did provide such a link.
That includes MSNBC's Steve Benen, who attributed the "written statement" to "Trump's transition team," not to Trump himself. That said, Benen recorded the start of the statement like this:
“Today marks a historic electoral landslide victory in our nation’s democracy. I thank the American people for their overwhelming vote to elect me as their next President of the United States. The official votes cast by the Electoral College exceeded the 270 required to secure the presidency by a very large margin, far greater than ever anticipated by the media...”
We'll assume that someone actually made and distributed that statement. That said, we don't exactly know who exactly it was. Beyond that, we don't know why no one has produced a link. Was this "written statement" written in crayon? Was it written by hand on an index card, then stealthily passed all around?
We have no idea where that statement came from. That said, the statement is crazily wrong in several respects.
If we're all still speaking English, Trump's victory over Candidate Clinton wasn't "an historic electoral landslide" in any recognizable respect.
If we're all speaking standard English, he didn't receive an "overwhelming vote" from the American people. By normal standards, it's a stretch to say that he exceeded the required 270 electoral votes "by a very large margin."
By normal standards, that statement by Trump, or by his team, is hard to square with elementary facts. That said, it lies within an unfortunate context. It follows decades of strange behavior by the press corps itself.
George Washington couldn't tell a lie. It often seems that Donald Trump is unable to tell the truth. But then, the weird behavior of the press has set the stage for this strange aspect of Trumpism. Again:
In 1999 and 2000, they invented lies by Candidate Gore, then pretended to be outraged by the invented lies. In 2015 and 2016, they went a million miles out of their way to avoid confronting obvious misstatements by Candidate Trump.
Donald J. Trump seems to be redefining the concept or practice of truth. That said, the press corps almost beat him to it. Would you say the behaviors of Trump and the mainstream press are more alike or more different? Weirdly enough, we'd have to say the answer's not perfectly clear.
In the next few days, we'll continue exploring this theme with reference to yesterday's indictments in Flint. On last night's Maddow Show, a cable star picked and chose her facts in her usual cavalier manner. Beyond that, an obvious question arose once again:
Is the word "allegedly" even part of this star's lexicon? Is Maddow aware of the basic concepts which lie behind the word's use?
Over the course of half an hour, Maddow picked and chose her facts as she discussed, or perhaps as she seemed to discuss, the indictments in Flint. As always, she treated accusation as fact.
This morning, we were struck by the underwhelming level of skill with which the New York Times reported the facts about these indictments. They reported more facts that Maddow did, but we thought their overall performance was strikingly poor. (More on this to come.)
George Washington couldn't tell a lie. Donald J. Trump can't tell the truth. Where does the press corps lie on this scale? At this point in their devolution, which of these famous American figures do they more closely resemble?