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You can click on the photo to watch various segments of the ABC Town Hall

Why Is It So Hard To Call Out Trump On His Lies?

He lies all the time. Rat-a-tat. And if you do try to call him to account, that only produces more lies…

Some notes from Trump’s “Town Hall” appearance on ABC. Which served as kind of a prelude to upcoming debates. Joe Biden’s got a Town Hall on CNN on Thursday.

George Stephanopoulos does an admirable job as moderator, asking pointed follow-ups. So do the citizen questioners. The event also once again illustrates Trump’s extreme difficulty interacting on a human level with everyday people. When they’re not part of vast uniformly red-hatted crowds, kept at something of a distance, and assured of demonstrating their undying support. His obfuscations are less effective when it’s an actual person with an actual problem or concern to whom the President’s not giving a straight answer. Not really even listening, often. And even he knows he can’t respond by belittling them on the spot, which is generally his approach with reporters when they ask him questions, which seems to have become a game to him that he kind of likes.

Still, there are some obvious things Trump does again and again, and again and again gets away with. Mostly when he throws around numbers and percentages.

Like when he says crime in New York is:

Up 100%, 150%. I saw one form of crime up 300%.”

What “form of crime”? We’d like to know.

Or talking about the nearly 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in America, about 20% of the world’s total:

Excess mortality rate is compared to Europe, compared to other places, it’s about 25% better. In one case, it’s over 60% better.”

Maybe the “chart that just came out a little while ago” where the President says he got that info from is legit. But is it Europe? Or is it “other places?” And where is it that the U.S. is doing 60% better in comparison? Again, We’d like to know.

Why not dig in? Why not get specific?

When Stephanopoulos does pursue this kind of thing, Trump is not expecting it, and is not ready. Probably because he’s gotten used to just steamrolling…

So when Trump says:

There are a lot of people think that masks are not good.”

And Stephanopoulos follows:

Who are those people?”

Trump answers:

I’ll tell you who those people are… Waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they’re playing with the mask…I’m not blaming them…I’m just saying what happens. They’re playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good.”

So actually the “a lot of people” is Trump, recounting an encounter he had with a waiter involving a mask that he doesn’t like.

And Stephanopoulos challenges the President on saying he’s got a health care plan: “I have it all ready. I have it all ready”. Even though Trump said he was dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on that 3 years ago and still hasn’t produced it, despite continually promising it during interviews, each time within a matter of weeks. And that he’s vowing protecting preexisting conditions when his administration’s in court right now trying to end it.

But other contentions are let slide:

Like when Trump answers a question from a U.S. citizen who immigrated from the Dominican Republic:

So we are doing something with immigration that I think is going to be very strong.”

And, as usual, will be announced “in a very short time.”

Really? What?

Or more absurdly, that even though Trump did not show up to a memorial ceremony for American war dead in France, it wasn’t because he doesn’t have respect for people who serve in the military; he actually really, really wanted to go. In fact:

I said let me just go separately in a car in disguise.”

Or that he goes to Dover AFB “oftentimes” to witness the return of soldiers who have lost their lives. Except “oftentimes” is actually zero times in the past 2 years, according to HuffPost political reporter S.V. Date.

Thing is, the President could make his same point about trying to bring troops home alive and express the same reverence without lying about it. But he still does.

Or that Winston Churchill said “everything’s going to be good”. And was willing to mislead people during World War II to make them feel better. While at the same time Trump denies he’s misleading anybody. Churchill painted a rousing but realistic picture of threat and sacrifice and potentially fighting for years if necessary, to the end.

Or a very typical Trump feint, saying of his response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

I didn’t downplay it. In many ways I up-played it.”

When Bob Woodward has got him on tape saying:

I wanted to always play it down.”

Yes, ABC News is exhaustively fact checking all of the President’s contentions during its forum. But fact-checking is really after-the-fact checking, so you’re only really going to stick around for it if you already have doubts in your mind. It must be done. But still, what good does it do in terms of making a difference? For that matter what good is what we’re writing right here, right now going to do?

You might very validly argue that we’re just giving Trump more publicity, which is a danger unto itself. And is discussed in a beautifully-written piece by James Fallows in the Atlantic. And it’s true, we probably wouldn’t be publishing at all today if Trump hadn’t lied so much. (Although we are very interested in the strange dynamic when Trump is forced to really interact face-to-face with people who aren’t “presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens”, which he pointedly doesn’t at his rallies.) And in fact, if Joe Biden lies less at his Town Hall Thursday, he’ll almost certainly get less coverage.

Our only argument for why it’s not a waste of your and our time is pushing back — even if not fully effective against such a huge wall of lies — is ultimately the only counterbalance to those lies. And that’s still important. Even if we’ve said it and you’ve heard it a million times.

Because in the end, we do believe we are illuminating and validating something that’s worth noting and bears repeating. That as the election season heats up, with accelerating frequency, Trump opens his mouth: out comes a lie.

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