President Trump won’t accept “seemingly agreed-upon facts” and insists “on the veracity of a variety of demonstrably false claims that happen to suit his political needs,” according to a story by Maggie Haberman on the front page of the New York Times.
“He accepts less-than-credible denials from autocratic heads of state about nefarious acts. He disputes the existence of man-made climate change and insists that photographic evidence of the crowd at his inauguration is fake, part of a media plot to harm him,” Haberman wrote in the lead of her story, “A President Who Believes He Is Entitled To His Own Facts.”
“In the process, he has untethered the White House from the burden of objective proof, creating a rich trove for professional fact-checkers and raising questions about the basis for many of his decisions,” she writes.
It’s nothing new, she wrote. He believed in the guilt of the Central Park Five, the young black men who confessed to murdering a white woman in Central Park in the 1980s only to have someone come along later and claim responsibility for the crime. He also questioned whether President Obama was born in the U.S., even after Obama produced a “long-form” birth certificate.
But it does come with a new twist. “The most noticeable new variation of that tendency that Mr. Trump has adopted as president is his penchant for giving the benefit of the doubt to authoritarian leaders with whom he has tried to develop personal or political relationships,” Haberman wrote.
“That was most recently on display this week, when he said that King Salman of Saudi Arabia had assured him that the royal family had no role in the disappearance of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The king, he noted, had given a ‘very strong’ denial.”
Trump never said the “very strong” denial was the end of the matter. He has called from the start for a wait-and-see attitude until the matter can be investigated and has vowed “severe consequences” if the Saudi government was found to be complicit in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident who reportedly entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and has not been seen since.
Haberman admitted only that Trump’s aides said his reaction has been “completely mischaracterized.”
What Trump has said is “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
But Haberman implied otherwise with her account of Trump’s decision-making timeline. “By Thursday,” she wrote, “as the weight of the evidence of Saudi government complicity became hard to disagree with, Mr. Trump said that he believed that Mr. Khashoggi was dead, and that there could be ‘severe’ consequences for Saudi Arabia.”
The rest of the story is a series of quotes from Trump opponents with no attempt at balance, set up with Haberman declaring: “His long career in the New York real estate world convinced Mr. Trump that all people are prone to shading their views according to their own self-interest. Objectivity is not something he expects of people, and he long ago came to believe that ‘facts’ are really arbitrary.”
She quotes a Republican operative in California saying: “It is a huge fundamental problem of how to govern when there are no facts.”
Objective reality “is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does,” she quotes former CIA director and frequent Trump critic Michael Hayden as saying.
David Axelrod, a former Obama adviser, added: “There are no governing rules – one doesn’t have to be governed by rules or facts. Whatever it takes to get what you want or to get to where you want, no matter what you have to justify or what you have to ignore, it’s OK.”
She returns to Hayden for a final shot: “‘This rhetoric really matters,’ he said, ‘in that it belies how little he fundamentally understands the institutions of American democracy.’”