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A comment on Trump's 15,000+ documented false and misleading claims in just three years

Max Stearns

To be sure, neither I nor anyone else is going to fact check the documentation presented in today's Washington Post article concerning Donald Trump's greater than 15,000 false or misleading claims over a period of three years. For the sake of argument, let's assume that this count is off by as much as 50%, which seems extremely generous toward Trump given the care that went into this and past studies on the topic. Even the 50% figure, so 7500 documented instances of false or misleading statements, would be truly astonishing and is certainly unprecedented by a sitting president. This has serious implications. It isn't funny. It means that those who defend Trump are tasked with sorting through constant muck, akin to building a home on quicksand, given the constant flow of profound disinformation. This makes it virtually impossible to sort truthful from false claims. This problem is exacerbated by Trump's routine insistence that Republican politicians accept his alternative truths in place of contrary verified facts.

One of the major issues that I have had on social media and elsewhere in dealing with Trump supporters is their overwhelming tendency to isolate misstatements or misrepresentations on the left and to equate those with lies emanating from Donald Trump. This misses is a simple and important fact: the left lacks a singular leader, meaning that Trump supporters are equating false claims by scores, and possibly even hundreds, of Democratic leaders with false claims by a singular person. That person happens to represent the Republican party and is now President of the United States. This is a profound false equivalence.

In addition, the pervasive nature of these lies implies something critically important when we consider that Republican congressional leaders have thus far insistently construed all evidence presented against Trump in the impeachment proceedings in the light most favorable to Trump. Resolving such doubts in Trump's favor implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, requires an attribution of integrity and candor that is completely and utterly unwarranted.

To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that Trump bears the burden of proof in the impeachment proceedings against him. I am suggesting, however, that it is entirely fair and reasonable to draw adverse inferences against Trump based on the most reasonable construction of the evidence presented. (The Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination, including the inability to draw adverse inferences from a failure to testify, has no bearing in an impeachment proceeding, which is not a criminal trial).

I also wish to be clear that I am not proposing or endorsing a minimal standard of proof, such as preponderance of the evidence, which is used in a civil trial. Again, this is a political, not legal, proceeding. Members of the House and Senate must determine by their own lights the appropriate evidentiary standard. I am saying that if the process is to have integrity, individual members of the House and of the Senate must determine which construction of the evidence is most persuasive. This includes a fair consideration of (1) what we know of Trump's character; and (2) what we have observed about Trump's unwillingness to be forthright and to cooperate in these very impeachment proceedings. In making that construction, members of each house are entirely free to rely upon hearsay and other circumstantial evidence, especially since it is Trump himself who has disallowed other, more direct, evidence, including witness testimony and documentation, through his consistent course of conduct in thwarting congressional subpoenas. This course of conduct, of course, forms a major part of the Second Article of Impeachment against him.

Trump's constant lies matter. And they matter in ways directly relevant to the impeachment proceedings.

I welcome, as always, your comments.

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