US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014.
Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

Why can’t Trump tell the truth about military pay?

Updated

Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation and commissioning ceremony in Annapolis late last week, which wouldn’t have been especially notable were it not for the president’s propensity to say a lot of things that weren’t even close to being true.

Trump’s rhetoric about the size of the Naval fleet was wrong. His claims about defense spending were false. He insisted that he’s improved international respect for the United States, which wasn’t even close to being true.

But while those bogus claims were annoying, this was the presidential rhetoric that stood out for me:

“We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years. We got you a big pay increase. First time in over 10 years.

“I fought for you. That was the hardest one to get, but you never had a chance of losing. I represented you well. I represented you well.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this wasn’t the first time Trump made this claim. A few weeks ago, the president delivered remarks at a Celebration of Military Mothers and Spouses Event in the White House at which he twice boasted with pride about approving the first military raises “in 10 years.”

All of which leads to an awkward question: what kind of president lies to servicemen and women about their pay?

First, the basic elements of reality are in dispute. As we discussed the last time Trump made this claim, there were raises for our military in 2017. And 2016. And 2015 and 2014. And every other year of the Obama era. And every year of the Bush era. And every year of the Clinton era.

In fact, the military has gotten a raise practically every year since the end of World War II. It’s the sort of detail a competent Commander in Chief should probably be aware of.

Second, while Trump said on Friday that he secured “a big pay increase” for servicemen and women, but in inflation-adjusted terms, the raise was actually quite modest.

Third, Trump’s description of the politics – he said the raise was “the hardest one to get” – is a fairy tale. There was no organized opposition pushing back against pay increases for the military.

Some will no doubt suggest that the president is so ignorant that he wasn’t necessarily lying. The trouble is, there’s a pattern: when Trump first started pushing this line, there was quite a bit of coverage making clear that his claims weren’t true. And yet, the president keeps peddling the falsehoods anyway, which strongly suggests he’s trying to deceive the public.

Why? In part because Trump is eager to present himself an ally to those who wear the uniform, and in part because he’s equally eager to suggest Barack Obama wasn’t.

As we talked about a few weeks ago, it’s a strange and lazy way to see the political landscape, and it has no basis in fact, but Cadet Bone Spurs really does seem to consider himself some kind of unique champion of the military.

It’s probably why Trump will keep repeating the lie, reality be damned.