Trump and the Truth: Why is He Spending Time on the Size of His Crowds?

Donald Trump pulled off what Republican and Democrat presidential hopefuls failed to do: he tapped into the discontent of a large segment of the country, convincing 46% of American voters that he was the best candidate. True, Hillary got 48% of the cote, but Trump’s nearly sixty-three million votes is nothing to sneer at. Moreover, he won the Electoral College and won in areas the Clinton campaign totally ignored.

Trump has appointed some good people to his cabinet who have bipartisan support, like James Mattis and John F. Kelly. It will take longer for the rest of his nominees to be confirmed, but unless something very serious is found, it is likely they all will be. Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and put the people back in charge, but he failed to this with his appointees. Many of them are fantastically wealthy individuals who would be comfortable in the board rooms of Goldman Sachs or as the CEO of the largest oil and gas company in the world as, of course, Rex Tillerson was until recently.

Instead, in his inaugural address, Trump made it clear that he considers the “swamp” to be America’s entire political class, including all of its senators, congressmen and former presidents. I can’t imagine what they were thinking as they heard his words of condemnation. Perhaps the Republicans surrounding him were saying to themselves, “Well, he can’t be talking about me.” It is hard to understand why he would insult and dismiss the people whose support he will need to achieve his agenda. But is it rational for Trump to keep attacking the press and the intelligence community?

If the past two days are any indication, we are in for a rocky few years. Daniel Pipes has zeroed in on it, writing that he is “pleased with Trump’s many appointees ready to forward a conservative agenda.” Yet he is worried about the elephant in the room -- Trump’s character and temperament. He writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

As an egomaniac with enormous political latitude and no consistent ideology, he could, for any or no reason, sack these worthy cabinet members and replace them with technocrats. Worse, he can freely discard his current conservative orientation. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once boasted that "we're going to build an entirely new political movement. It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy." Trump himself has warned that nothing he has specified so far commits him: "Anything I say right now - I'm not the president - everything is a suggestion. . . . I'm always flexible on issues."

As an historian, I’m concerned that Trump is flexible not only on the issues, but on the truth as well.  With all the problems facing the country and the world, isn’t it self-destructive to focus on the size of the crowd at his inauguration and to insist that more people attended his inauguration than Obama’s?

If these pictures show otherwise, it must be the press and their trick photography that produced them. Trump’s message is “do you believe me or your lying eyes?” Trump had his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, call the White House press corps together to reprimand them for lying about the size of the crowd. He told them that they were “sowing division with deliberately false reporting.” His voice was filled with anger as he spoke. Spicer said that more than 700,000 people stretched down the Mall to the Washington Monument. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said. This came after he claimed that the National Park Service doesn’t release crowd estimates and that “no one has numbers.” On NBC's Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway actually told Chuck Todd that the Trump team was not telling lies. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood,” she answered Todd. “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, just has alternative facts.” Todd responded, “Alternative facts aren’t facts. They’re falsehoods.”

How does Trump expect world leaders and Americans  to believe him when he says something has happened that needs attention? Lying publicly about such an obvious thing like the crowd size is not going to gain him support when he needs it most.

Trump will undermine his presidency if he continues to resort to “alternative facts” when he doesn’t like something. This is not what Americans want to see in their president.