Everyone knows that Donald Trump lies. But lately, Paul Krugman writes, Trump's lies are qualitatively different:
On Tuesday the White House science office went beyond Trump’s now-standard claims that we’re “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus and declared that one of the administration’s major achievements was “ending the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Who was that supposed to convince, when almost everyone is aware not only that the pandemic continues, but that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging? All it did was make Trump look even more out of touch.
In last week’s debate, Trump declared that New York is a “ghost town.” Eight million people can see with their naked eyes that it isn’t.
On Monday, campaigning in Pennsylvania, Trump repeatedly claimed that thanks to the state’s Democratic governor, “You can’t go to church.” Thousands of churchgoing Pennsylvanians know that this simply isn’t true.
On Wednesday, campaigning in Arizona, Trump went on a rant about California, where “you have a special mask. You cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right, right, Charlie? It’s a very complex mechanism.” As 39 million California residents can tell you, nothing remotely like that exists.
What Trump says these days is more and more absurd. And it raises the question:
Who is this supposed to convince? It’s hard to see any political upside to such ludicrous confabulations, which demand that people reject their own direct experience. All they do — I hate to say this, but it’s obvious — is raise questions about the president’s stability.
So what’s going on? Trump wouldn’t be the first politician to lash out wildly in the face of electoral defeat. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Remember, also, that Roy Moore, defeated in Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election, never conceded.
In fact, almost everyone expects the mother of all temper tantrums, quite possibly including calls for violence, if Trump does, in fact, lose next week. To some extent he may just be getting an early start.
There is an analog. Krugman points to George Orwell:
After those bizarre claims about California masks, I reread George Orwell’s classic essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War.” Observing Spain’s fascists and their fellow travelers — including many in the British press! — Orwell worried that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” He feared a future in which, if the Leader “says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five.”
The point is that for Trump and many of his supporters, that future has already arrived. Does he believe that there’s any truth behind his bizarre claims that Californians are being forced to eat through complicated masks? That’s a bad question, because he doesn’t accept that there is such a thing as objective truth. There are things he wants to believe, and so he does; there are other things he doesn’t want to believe, so he doesn’t.
What’s scary about all this isn’t just the possibility that Trump may yet win — or steal — a second term. It’s the fact that almost his entire party, and tens of millions of voters, seem perfectly willing to follow him into the abyss.
The United States is truly on the edge of the abyss.