U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
CARLOS BARRIA

Trump wants to be seen as the sole authority for truth

Donald Trump entered the White House as the least popular American president since the dawn of modern polling, and after a couple of weeks on the job, his standing has not improved. The latest survey results from Gallup, CNN, and CBS News point to a president with weak national support, pushing ideas that the American mainstream generally opposes.

Against this backdrop, Trump has a few options. The president could say, for example, that he's doing what he thinks is right, without regard for popularity. He could also say his agenda may lack support now, but Americans will grow to appreciate his ideas in time.

But this morning, Trump, who's clearly aware of the polling, went in a very different direction.

"Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting."
Hmm. Positive polls, from the White House's perspective, are to be trusted, but any negative poll must necessarily be seen as wrong and "fake" -- because Trump says so. He knows what "people want," so evidence to the contrary, by definition, must be wrong.

One of the most alarming aspects of the Trump presidency is how often he applies this kind of thinking to aspects of modern American life. Don't trust news organizations. Don't trust the courts. Don't trust pollsters. Don't trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don't trust unemployment numbers. Don't even trust election results.

Too often, Donald J. Trump suggests there's a sole authority for truth, and the public is supposed to think it's him.

Making matters quite a bit worse, some Republicans are inclined to go along with this style of authoritarian thinking. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Science Committee, recently advised Americans "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 not to believe public-opinion polls he doesn't like. It's not a healthy approach to politics in a democracy.