Just a couple of weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump was confronted with a series of national polls suggesting he was off to a difficult start. It led the new president to make a bold declaration about all public-opinion surveys: “Any negative polls are fake news.”
It was a hint of things to come. As Trump framed it, polls he likes are real and trustworthy, while polls he dislikes are unreliable and “fake.” Why? Because he says so.
All of this came to mind last night, when the president returned to the subject during a rally in Tampa.
Trump at the campaign-style rally first accused the news media of suppressing polls that indicate positive numbers about his presidency.
“Polls are fake, just like everything else,” Trump declared during the rally in Tampa, echoing his attacks on “fake news.”
Moments later, the president assured his supporters, “They just came out with a poll – the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party is Trump! Can you believe that?”
Well, no, actually we can’t believe that – in part because it’s not true, and in part because Trump had just finished telling everyone that “polls are fake, just like everything else.”
What was especially striking, though, about last night’s line was the degree to which it fits into an unsettling presidential worldview. Indeed, it was just last week that Trump told an audience, “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
The two lines create a striking pair of bookends: it’s important to Trump that his followers don’t believe what they see, because “everything” is “fake.”
Everything, that is, except what their leader tells them is true.
As we discussed last week, this is all part of the president’s effort to position himself as the sole of authority for truth. In fact, it’s become an unsubtle staple of the Trump presidency: Don’t trust news organizations. Don’t trust the courts. Don’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don’t trust unemployment numbers. Don’t even trust election results. Don’t trust photographs of inaugurations.
The list, however, keeps growing. The FBI is suspect. So is the Justice Department. So are climate scientists. So are medical professionals who aren’t comfortable with regressive GOP health care plans. So are polls, which should be seen as “fake” if Trump doesn’t like the results.
The authority for truth will tell us what’s true. Others are not to be trusted.
Adding insult to injury are those who volunteer to go along with these tactics. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Science Committee, advised Americans last year “to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
This is a twisted perspective, not just because the president routinely has no use for reality, but also because, in a democratic society, the idea that truth-seeking citizens must turn exclusively to the national leader is so antithetical to American norms, it’s genuinely offensive.
It is, however, eerily consistent with a Republican president who told voters during the campaign, “Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing. I will give you everything… I’m the only one.” In his GOP convention speech, Trump added, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it…. I am your voice.”
And that voice is now telling us that polls, like “everything else,” are “fake.” Good to know.