As thousands of Honduran migrants plan to seek refuge in the United States, Donald Trump has responded in classic Trump fashion: with conspiracy theories that don’t make any sense.
The president has argued repeatedly in recent days that Democrats are actually financing the migrants’ efforts, for reasons neither Trump nor anyone at the White House can explain. As part of the same pitch, the president, hoping to scare the public with racially charged nonsense, insisted this week that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” among the migrants.
At a White House event yesterday, a reporter asked Trump, “Where’s the proof that Democrats are paying for this caravan? Why would they pay for a caravan to come up, two weeks before [the midterm elections]?” The president replied, true to form, “You know what, you’re going to find out,” which is a standard Trump line to justify nonsensical conspiracy theories.
But soon after there was another exchange as part of the same Q&A. In response to the president’s line about people from the Middle East being “mixed in” among migrants from Honduras, Trump conceded:
“There’s no proof of anything. There’s no proof of anything. But they could very well be. If you look at what that was building – you know they were talking about 5 or 6,000 people.
“I’m pretty good at estimating crowd sizes.”
Let’s let that last part slide for now (cough, inauguration, cough). Instead, it’s worth marveling at Trump’s line of thought: he alerted the nation to a threat he made up; he later conceded there’s “no proof”; but he said his made-up threat “could very well be” true, which is why the president is comfortable using his office to peddle it.
Last summer, in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Trump declared with pride, “When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts…. Before I make a statement, I need the facts.”
It was a ridiculous assertion at the time. It’s vastly worse now.
The president’s “there’s no proof of anything” confession was obviously a problem for Trump’s elusive credibility. But the problem is compounded by how frequently we’re confronted with similar circumstances.
Last year, for example, Trump said Barack Obama was at the center of a Watergate-like conspiracy, ordering an illegal wiretap of Trump Tower before the election. All of this, Trump said, was because his predecessor is either a “bad” or a “sick” man. In a an interview with “Face the Nation,” CBS’s John Dickerson asked Trump soon after if he stood by the claims, The president replied, “I don’t stand by anything.”
A couple of months earlier, Trump claimed he had registered “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” When a reporter reminded him this wasn’t even close to being true, the president responded, “I was given that information, I don’t know.”
As a candidate for the nation’s highest office, Trump claimed a man with ISIS ties had targeted him, which turned out to be completely untrue. On “Meet the Press,” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Trump about his willingness to substantiate odd claims with bogus proof. “I don’t know,” Trump replied. “What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the Internet.”
The fact that Trump lies uncontrollably is obviously a problem, but just as alarming is his total indifference to the line between fact and fiction. The president’s willingness to say things that aren’t true has been well documented, but what the public should care about is that he simply doesn’t care what’s true and what’s not.
He just says stuff and expects the public to accept it as true.
Billy Bush had an op-ed in the New York Times about a year ago in which he noted that he once called Trump out for inflating his television ratings. The future president told him, “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.”
It’s a quote that helps define how Donald Trump approaches reality.