“YOU look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Donald Trump proclaimed before an adoring rally last Saturday. The trouble was that nothing much happened in Sweden the night before — certainly not the terrorist incident that the President seemed to be hinting at.
The responses were dismissive. Twitter was filled with suggestions about disasters involving Ikea’s self-assembly furniture. The former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt asked of President Trump: “What has he been smoking?”
It turned out that President Trump had been watching the right-wing channel Fox News a few days earlier, and had seen an interview with an anti-immigration campaigner who claimed that refugees were causing a crime wave in Sweden, but that it was being covered up by the Swedish police. There was zero evidence for this. But it fitted with President Trump’s narrative of “the very, very dishonest press [that] doesn’t even want to report” on terrorist attacks.
This is but one example of the dangerous blurring of fact and fiction which is characteristic of the new President of the United States, who has told demonstrable whoppers on everything from the size of the crowds at his inauguration to the current US murder rate, which, he says, ”is the highest it’s been in 47 years”, when FBI statistics show that it is almost at its lowest point.
There are so many Trump untruths that one White House correspondent is keeping a running list. There were 80 after just four weeks in office, but that was before the Swedish fantasy. He has even claimed that the sun was shining at a time when it was raining.
Some of this is merely silly, a reflection of President Trump’s thin-skinned vanity, which is unable to brook contradiction. He often leaves his listeners dumbfounded by the ridiculousness of his brazen lies. But there is a shameless quality to them which is unnerving. When one reporter pointed out the factual inaccuracy of one claim, the President replied: “Well, I don’t know. I was given that information. . . I’ve seen that information around.”
It was with a similar shifty side-step that President Trump first catapulted himself into politics, repeating the claims of far-right conspiracy theorists that Barack Obama was ineligible to be the US President because was not born in the US. Confronted with evidence to the contrary, Mr Trump persisted, just adding the preamble: “A lot of people say that. . .”.
Belief replaces fact. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, confirmed that, when he said of his boss: “He believes what he believes.” This is the politics of panto, in which “Oh no it isn’t” is deemed a sufficient refutation.
Yet this is serious. The Trump lies are not random. They have a pattern. His fabrications fit his various narratives: he is right, and the press are wrong; facts are fake news, whereas his assertions are unquestionable; America is rotten, because of blacks, Mexicans, immigrants, and liberals, and the press is lying to cover it up.
To justify his self-image as the national saviour, President Trump needs to depict a country which is in need of saving. His lies are attempts to shape a new reality. The new US President is not stupid. He is sinister.