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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Trump’s lying now matters more than ever

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: January 12, 2020, 6:02am

Now it matters, doesn’t it?

Some 18 months ago or so, I wrote a column about the problem with President Trump’s compulsive lying (“Trump lies a lot; it’s not unpatriotic to point that out,” June 10, 2018). Most readers who responded agreed with the point; some did not. No problem with that; when you write about politics you receive feedback from across the spectrum.

But one response has stuck with me. “Yeah, but Trump just lies about little things,” one reader wrote. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like that.

I remember the response because of its absurdity. If your child lied about eating the cookies or punching their brother or spreading peanut butter on the wall, you probably would call them on it. You wouldn’t let it slide because it is a “little thing.” You would nip it in the bud before it becomes a habit.

A child who learns that lying can allow them to avoid consequences will soon be lying about the big things. Any parent understands that.

It might seem ridiculous to be conflating childish behavior with the president of the United States, yet here we are. That is what happens when you have an infantile adult in the White House; that is what happens when you have an administration that willfully lies.

Once Trump entered the White House, it started with the size of his inauguration crowd, which one administration passed off as “alternative facts.” In journalism, we call them “lies.” And it has escalated from there. According to The Washington Post, through Dec. 10, Trump had made 15,413 false or misleading claims in his first 1,055 days in office. More than half of those came in 2019 alone.

Now, you might think The Washington Post is fake news. So let’s say they are overstating the fabrications and Trump has told only 7,000 lies in office. Or 4,000. Or 1,000. Is that OK? Would you let your 7-year-old get away with that? Of course not. And it is shameful that we demand more from our children than we do from the most powerful person in the world.

Many of these false statements are, indeed, just Trump being Trump. Like when he recently claimed to have 32,000 people attend a 2016 rally without mentioning that the venue held 4,200. Or when he claimed the prime minister of Canada edited a version of “Home Alone 2” to remove a Trump cameo.

And some of them are not falsehoods but are open to debate. Like when he calls himself a “very stable genius.”

But throughout his business career and as a candidate and now as president, Trump has demonstrated a truthiness problem, and it is one that has infected his administration; he has not, despite his claims, surrounded himself with only the best people. That might not matter when you are talking about crowd size; it matters now.

Because in the wake of the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, Trump and his acolytes have been doing a lot of tap dancing. “There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks being plotted by Qassem Soleimani,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Thursday. “We don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real.” On Friday, Trump told Fox, “I can reveal that I believe it would’ve been four embassies.”

So either they did know where or they are making it up as they go along.

Therein lies the problem. No Americans should mourn the death of Soleimani. From what we know he was a pretty bad guy who was instrumental in the death of many American soldiers. But questioning the administration’s lunge toward war and doubting the stories it tells us should not be conflated with supporting terrorists.

We have a president and an administration that has repeatedly lied to the American people about the little things. And when you do that over and over again, it becomes that much easier to lie about the big ones.