In this brief conversation on CNN last month, Seymour Hersh managed to say a number of interesting things.
Speaking about Trump, Hersh says:
“This guy is different. And I think people are tired of politicians. And he appeals for a lot of reasons that maybe we don’t all understand. I certainly don’t understand them. He’s got 48 or 47 percent of the people. He appeals to them. There’s something about him. This is a guy who took down 13 Republicans with a history of more than 200 years of political life.”
What seemed remarkable to me about this was that this veteran reporter couldn’t understand the appeal of Donald Trump to about half of his fellow American people. He’s still puzzled about it. Shouldn’t it be perfectly obvious to a veteran reporter like him? How is it that he can’t see? Isn’t it obvious?
I think I “got” Trump from more or less the moment he announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015. I watched the whole speech he delivered that day after descending the elevator with Melania in Trump Tower. I was immediately interested, before I even knew what any of his policies might be. I just wished I’d put a large bet on him to win that same day, rather than waiting for over a year to venture a small bet on him.
He was different. He was a dark horse. He wasn’t a politician. He’d never run for any political office at all in his entire life. And he was 70 years old. Those last two facts should have sufficed to make him a 1000 to 1 outsider. And in fact they did. More or less everyone was expecting his campaign to implode within weeks.
But he had the common touch. He could talk to anybody, because he himself was an ordinary guy. And he could talk to them in their language. He didn’t talk down to them. He wasn’t condescending.
The CNN host who was talking to Hersh said, again about Trump:
“We can’t normalise lying. We can’t normalise bigotry. That’s just not what America is about.”
Does Trump tell lies? Is he a bigot? I don’t see that he’s either of those things. And as a matter of interest I ran a search for “the lies of Donald Trump”, and turned up an Esquire article: Donald Trump Has Managed To Tell 3,001 Lies As President. Here Are Five Of His Best.
Let’s have a look at his top five whoppers.
5. “The overall audience was, I think, the biggest ever to watch an inauguration address, which was a great thing” – 26 January 2017
The furore over the inauguration crowd feels almost quaint now, but when the White House claimed 720,000 people attended – and Trump himself went for 1.5 million – it did rather set the tone. Fact-checkers reckon the number was closer to 600,000, a third of Obama’s 1.8 million-strong crowd in 2009.
That’s a lie, is it? Really? Trump speaks of “the overall audience”, and they refer instead to the size of “the inauguration crowd”. Those are two different things. The overall global audience for Trump’s inauguration speech was probably tens of millions of people all around the world. I was one of them. I didn’t watch Obama’s inauguration speech.
And even if Trump was just talking about the inauguration crowd present that day, does it really matter if he over-estimated it? Really? Does it matter? I know that Trump talks himself up. I know he likes to brag. I know that he’s always saying that what he does is “the best” and “the greatest” more or less whatever he does. That’s how he is. It’s no different from the way that Cassius Clay used to brag that he was “the greatest”. Bragging isn’t the same as lying.
Every single one of the “top five whoppers” in the Esquire article didn’t actually seem to me to be substantive lies of any kind whatsoever. I got the feeling that if Trump had said one day that he had eaten two scoops of ice cream, while video footage showed him actually eating three, CNN would have counted it as another “lie”. And if he’d eaten 2¾ scoops of ice cream instead of 3, that would have been a “lie” too.
In short, Trump’s supposed “lies” aren’t any sort of substantive lies at all. And the same applies to his supposed “bigotry”: he’s not a bigot either. Wanting your country to have borders to keep people out isn’t bigotry. Neither is it xenophobia.
If you want to find lying and bigotry in America, you’re not going to find it in Donald Trump. But you’ll find plenty of it in ubiquitous Tobacco Control, which engages in non-stop lying, and non-stop bigotry. And I bet nobody on CNN ever draws anyone’s attention to that. In fact they’re probably all in favour of it. They probably do it themselves too.