Trump’s Fake News

Published December 28, 2018

National Review Online

Remarkable, isn’t it, that Donald Trump has made decrying “fake news” his calling card? Is the press hostile to him? Sure. Do they lie about him? For the most part, no. Then again, the truth is not everyone’s friend. As William Randolph Hearst once quipped: “If Mr. Hughes will stop telling lies about me, I’ll stop telling the truth about him.” Or, even better, William F. Buckley said of Gore Vidal: “Anyone who lies about him is doing him a favor.”

On his visit to Iraq, the president lied to the troops. How can you claim to honor people you are lying to? Lying signals contempt. “We are always going to protect you. And you just saw that, ’cause you just got one of the biggest pay raises you’ve ever received. . . . You haven’t gotten one in more than ten years. More than ten years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one.”

Sure. Here’s the Pentagon’s online account of pay raises over the past ten years. The military received raises each year for the past ten years.

Mr. Trump wasn’t finished. “They had plenty of people that came up, they said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent, we could make it 2 percent, we could make it 4 percent,’” Trump told the troops about the latest pay raise. “I said, ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’”

The late William Safire once wrote a column about his old boss, Richard Nixon, who had a weakness for claiming that aides had counseled him to “take the easy way out.” Safire joked (I’m paraphrasing), “Yes, I’m the one. I always proposed that he do the expedient thing, not the right thing.”

Trump takes the Nixon tic to new levels. The Boy Scouts claimed his speech to the jamboree was the greatest ever. The NFL called to agree that the timing of a presidential debate was terrible. Federal workers have been ringing him up to say, “Keep the government closed,” though they are working without pay. What a lively phone life he has.

Anyway, did Trump request a 10 percent pay increase for the troops? No. Trump’s administration requested an increase of 2.1 percent for 2018. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a 2.4 percent raise. In 2019, the troops will receive a 2.6 percent increase, which is the largest in nine years. But, even in the Trump era, 2.6 is not ten.

Speaking of previous efforts to visit Iraq that had been thwarted by security concerns, the president complained: “Pretty sad when you spend 7 trillion in the Middle East and going in has to be under this massive cover . . .”

It’s not the first time Mr. Trump has used this figure. On the campaign trail, he used to say that we had spent 6 trillion in the Middle East (“that’s trillion with a t”). And then, one day, he just began to say 7 trillion. And there it has remained. Don’t be surprised if it goes to 8 trillion when the mood suits him. Who says the inflation rate is low?

In 2014, the Congressional Research Service put the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts at $1.6 trillion. When questioned about the 7 trillion figure, the White House pointed to a paper by Boston University political scientist Neta Crawford. Her work factored together a great deal more than spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. She focused on all of our post-9/11 spending, including not just the wars in those two countries, but also State Department and Agency for International Development spending, homeland-security expenditures, and war-related veterans care and disability expenses. Still, even adding all of those extras into her calculations, she arrived at a figure of $3.6 trillion by 2016. She then also added something more — the cost of caring for veterans stretching into 2053, and “additional cumulative interest on past appropriations” to reach the number 8 trillion over 35 years.

Those are some loosey-goosey numbers. But even assuming total good faith on Crawford’s part, and assuming Mr. Trump is even aware of her, he is grossly distorting her work. He constantly asserts that we’ve already spent 7 trillion on wars in the “Middle East,” not that our total post-9/11 expenditures on defense, diplomacy, homeland security, and veterans care until 2053 may add up to that.

So even while visiting the troops — a good deed — he managed to soil it by flinging lies in all directions.

© 2018

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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