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“Truthful Hyperbole” vs. Truth

Late in his hour-and-a-half long speech to a rally crowd in Cincinnati on Thursday, President Donald Trump assured his adoring audience that AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be cured, which is something most presidents would have mentioned earlier. The boast probably would have gotten more attention if anyone believed it were actually true, and there weren’t another hour’s worth of similar unverifiable and untrue boasts for the fact-checkers to go over. Trump believes in what he calls “truthful hyperbole,” and apparently so does his nominee to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence.
Rep. John Ratcliffe was a controversial choice for the job from the outset, given his apparent lack of relevant qualifications for the job, but Democratic opposition has grown stronger and Republican support less solid since it’s become clear he has a Trumpian tendency to overstate his accomplishments.
Earlier Ratcliffe had been forced to admit he wasn’t as successful a prosecutor of terrorism during his brief term as an acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas as he’d earlier claimed. It turns out there weren’t a whole lot of terrorism cases to be prosecuted in east Texas during his short stint on the job, and that Ratcliffe played a more limited role that he’d bragged about in the cases that did come up. He did get a psychologically troubled Iraq war veteran to plead guilty to possession of a pipe bomb, but that seems to have been his biggest contribution to the war on terrorism.
Ratcliffe has also boasted on his congressional web site that he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day, which on its face is as fanciful as boasting of curing AIDS and childhood cancer, and now he’s been forced to admit that was overstated. He was involved in a five-state sweep of poultry plants that resulted in approximately 300 arrests, but of course it was Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who actually did the arresting, and the results were underwhelming. Only 45 of the arrestees were actually prosecuted by Ratcliffe’s office, and six of the cases were dismissed, in two instances because the defendants turned out to be American citizens, one of whom was a 19-year-old woman dragged from her bed by immigration agents in a pre-dawn raid.
Trump can hardly object to such harmless exaggerations, nor does he seem to mind the apparent lack of qualifications for the job. Coats had been a Representative and Senator with a stellar reputation for his service on the intelligence committees in both chambers, and then served four years as ambassador to Germany before taking charge of the the national intelligence agency, but he constantly annoyed Trump by agreeing with the rest of the intelligence community that Russia meddled in the last presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Ratcliffe has signaled that he’ll take the word of Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that no such thing happened, so there’s no need to do anything to prevent it from happening again, and that’s the only qualification Trump needs.
If Ratcliffe doesn’t have a traditional intelligence background, so much the better as far as Trump is concerned. “We need somebody who can really rein it in,” Trump told reporters, “because as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They run amok.”
Trump’s own Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and Federal Bureau of Investigation director and the rest of his intelligence appointees don’t seem to have learned the lesson, though, as they’re all running amok and agreeing with Trump’s outgoing National Intelligence Director and special counsel Robert Mueller and anyone who’s been paying attention that Russia did indeed middle in the last election. They also all agree that Russia’s gearing up to do it again, and we’re more inclined to take their word for it rather than Trump’s and Putin’s and Ratcliffe’s.
Ratcliffe never did win Senate confirmation as a U.S. Attorney, and it’s hard to say if he’ll fare better at his next confirmation hearing, as there are a few Republicans who are openly skeptical of his fitness for the job, and it’s easy to predict he won’t be getting any Democratic votes. We’ll also go out on a limb and predict that Trump won’t soon cure AIDS and childhood cancer, and cautiously hope that Ratcliffe doesn’t rein in America’s intelligence from countering Russia meddlesome plots.

— Bud Norman

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Something There Is Doesn’t Love a Wall

So far the big news story of the year is President Donald Trump’s long promised plan to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, and the longer and more painful than usual partial government shutdown that has resulted from the Democrats’ refusal to pay for it. Trump has announced a short oration on the matter tonight, and the “fake news” organizations at the American Broadcasting Company and the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcast System the Cable News Network have all agreed to air it live, along with the Fox News Network and the Fox Business News Networks, so it should get great ratings.
Both the wall and the resulting partial government shutdown are polling quite badly for Trump at the moment, however, and we doubt that Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation for salesmanship will be able to change that. There are plenty of persuasive arguments for more stringent enforcement of America’s border laws, and we proudly note we were publicly making them long before Trump latched on to the issue, but Trump generally prefers what his ghost-written bestseller “The Art of the Deal” describes as “truthful hyperbole,” which is to say baseless but nonetheless appealing claims.
Inevitably and undeniably there have been murders and rapes and other crimes committed by criminals illegally crossing the border, but Trump has always exaggerated their share of America’s alarming level of violence. He similarly overstates that number of Middle Eastern terrorists seeking to cross the southern border, even as he vows to continue a partial government that has diminished America’s security efforts at its airports, where most would-be terrorists attempt to arrive. Trump also implies that a border wall would keep all the illegal immigrants out of the country, even though most of them have arrived at legal ports of entry and outstayed their welcome, and that the cost of a border wall would divert funds from any efforts to expel them. There are other high-tech and more cost-efficient means of securing the border that the funding Trump wants to his wall could pay for, too. Perhaps the simplest solution to illegal immigration is to crack down on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants, but that would include the Mar-a-Lago resort and other still wholly-owned companies of Trump.
Lately Trump has claimed that President Ronald Reagan tried in vain for eight long years to build a sea-to-sea border wall, and that several past presidents have confessed to their regret that they didn’t accomplish what Trump now bravely strives for, but that’s all entirely untrue. Neither Trump nor his friends at Fox News or on talk radio have come up with a single sound-bite from Reagan about a wall, and all Reagan’s still-living advisors on immigration issues have told the “fake news” that’s because Reagan never said any such thing. All four of the living ex-presidents have also convincingly contradicted Trump’s claims, and the spokesman for recently deceased President George H.W. Bush declined comment on the grounds that it was too soon for Bush “to be dragged into such debates.”
So it will be interesting to see what new claims Trump makes tonight. He has plenty of compelling arguments at his disposal for the need to main the hundreds of miles of border barriers that have already been built, as well as a few hundred miles more, but the Democrats have already voted to fund the maintenance of existing barriers and signaled a willingness to cough up a couple billion more dollars for another few hundred miles, but it’s not in his nature to settle for that. After Trump bragged on national television that he’d be proud to shut the government down over a border wall he’s hard pressed to blame the Democrats for the partial government shutdown, and they have no apparent reason for helping Trump out with the beating he’s taking in the polls. Trump also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and although Trump makes some convoluted arguments that the money America’s going to eventually come from the profits private businesses make from a renegotiated-yet-not-ratified-by-any-country trade agreement the Democrats can confidently consider themselves off the hook.
There’s still a chance that both sides will agree that enhanced enforcement of America’s immigration laws is an urgent national priority, but that a big and beautiful sea-to-sea border wall isn’t, and the the airport security and the Coast Guard need to start getting paid again and the farmers need their subsidies and the national parks have to resuming taking out the garbage. We surely hope so, as it seems sensible enough. This Trump fellow seems to have negotiated himself into a corner, though, and those damned Democrats for now seem to have both the opinion polls and the objective facts on side, so the big story of the day seems likely to linger. For most of us it will likely be soon supplanted by other big stories, but all those airport security employees and Coast Guardsmen and farmers and national park-goers should gird themselves for the long haul.

— Bud Norman