Tuesday, 21 February 2017

#LastnightinSweden - The Fake News President

There's something beautiful isn't there about a president who keeps talking about fake news and who then actually makes the stuff up the next night. Of course Trump makes up more or less everything anyway, but most of it is low level stuff and, since there is so much of it, he generally gets away with it. Thus he can make claims about the jobs he's already bringing back to America (he's not, he hasn't made any material difference to jobs announcements since he was elected) he can make his repeated claims about his election win -  there are so many lies that the media cannot keep up.

Occasionally they do of course, such as last week when he was confronted with his lie about his electoral college win. Then see him try to row it back. He tried twice to row it back and then he blamed it on someone else. Finally he tried to claim simply that it was a big win, when in fact, as we have just established, it was not a big win. It was in the lower reaches. But this is what Trump does. He keeps saying the same things over and over again like an annoying schoolboy making fart noises.

For the record here are the numbers once again: 

In 2016 Trump won with 304 electoral college votes to Clinton's 227, although he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. 

In 2012 Obama won with 332 to 206 and so a much wider margin and this for a second term. Obama also won the popular vote by nearly 5 million. 

in 2008, a year more comparable to 2016, Obama won with 365 votes to 173. He also won the popular vote by nearly 10 million votes. 

We have to go back to 2004, the election after the Iraq War, to see the last time when a winning candidate scored a lower electoral college score than Trump's. Bush won by only 286 to 251 but he did win the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. 

Famously in 2000 Bush won by only 5 electoral college votes, 271 to 266 and got half a million fewer votes than Al Gore. 

In 1996 Bill Clinton won by a massive landslide, winning by 379 votes to 159. He also won the popular vote by just under 8 million. 

In 1992 Clinton won his first term by beating incumbent president George HW Bush by 370 votes to 168. He won the popular vote by just under 6 million votes. 

In 1988 Bush won his one and only term by a massive 426 electoral college votes to 111. He won the popular vote too by 7 million votes. 

Then we go all the way back to the man Trump likes to compare himself with. He might be best to forget that because Ronald Reagan scored two of the most massive wins in American history. 

In 1984 Reagan won by 525 electoral college votes to a puny 13 for his opponent Walter Mondale. He also beat him by nearly 17 million votes. 

In 1980 Reagan beat the hapless Jimmy Carter by a similar margin. Carter was of course the sitting president at the time. Reagan won by 489 to 49 electoral college votes. He also won the popular vote by over 8 million votes. 

The bottom line then is that, of the last five presidents Bush has scored the lowest electoral college votes but Trump is the next lowest. 

So these are the facts. Trump is trying to create a fake news story of himself being a popular president when in reality he won by an electoral college margin that was not especially significant historically and was one of those rare occasions when the winner lost the popular vote. His electoral college score was the third lowest. Only George W Bush has done worse. The winner losing the popular vote has happened several times but is still unusual. Trump is not a popular president and he does not have an overwhelming mandate to do the things he is doing. The press have every right to hold him to account and to ask awkward questions.

The problem for the man who accuses others of fake news however is that he cannot stop himself. And he sends out his lieutenants to do his bidding too. At the weekend the poor sap sent out to lie for him was Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. You can see the interview below. Priebus mentioned the New York Times story of last week in which the paper used the established journalistic practice of unnamed but multiple or at least two sources. They reported that the Trump campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

This has infuriated the administration. Fake news they cry. Priebus then absurdly claimed that he has spoken to intelligence officer and they told him that the story is nonsense. Except he wouldn't name who told him this. Why? He represents the government, not a journalist. Nobody would lose their jobs by speaking to the White House Chief of Staff. They would by talking on the record to a journalist. Presumably Priebus will be offering on the record testimony from these officials to the world to back up the Trump claims of having no contacts with Russians. There is of course circumstantial evidence to back up coordination with Russian officials since those Clinton emails kept being released whenever the heat was on Trump.

These constant calls of fake news whenever Trump sees a story he doesn't like are starting to get old already. Yes there is a certain kind of bovine Trump supporter who buys that line. And yes journalists are not above a bit of hyperbole and exaggeration and often have agendas, but calling the press the enemies of the American people went way too far. Unfortunately the president is a man who is incapable of backing down unless forced to. Now he sees himself as unassailable and so his behaviour is only going to get worse.

This, as many have pointed out, is how dictatorships get started. The checks and balances of the US system are probably robust enough in normal times to resist the likes of Trump. But everyone has to be wary. It wouldn't take much for Trump to invoke some kind of emergency and try to bring in controls, to try and bully the media into being compliant, to force government officials to toe his line, to seek to prosecute or otherwise silence whistleblowers, law enforcement agencies, courts and the media. This is what Trump has done throughout his career. He has silenced people through the threat of law suits or contract. Just before he entered power he bought off those who were suing him over his eponymous and entirely fraudulent university. Bullying and aggression is how he acquires property and how he silences dissent. But not for nothing does he prefer doing business in countries where the rule of law is rather more flexible and biddable than in America or most western democracies.

We are probably overreacting to what has happened thus far, but the price of liberty is eternal vigilance as one of Trump's more celebrated predecessors almost certainly didn't say. But we will assume that he did. One thing is for certain, Jefferson didn't say about the press what Trump claimed he said this weekend. The liar in chief, or someone better educated than he, was cherry picking a phrase and using it in his miasma of mendacity. We must all keep looking clear eyed through that miasma and ignoring his attempts to distract us. He is only doing so because he is frustrated and angry and because only a few are buying his snake oil. That's what a free press does. It shines a light on issues that liars and cheats would rather keep shaded.


Its being reported that the man who absurdly, having just lost in court, tweeted that he would see his tormentors in court over his Muslim ban is going to have another go tomorrow with a fresh executive order. This will dilute some elements including on refugees, those with green cards and visas. But it may still be challenged. It will be challenged thanks to what the president himself said on the campaign trail about implementing a Muslim ban. Hoist by his own petard. Fake news?

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