Richard Bogartz: A Sideways Glance

  • President Donald Trump delivers remarks on Iran, at his Mar-a-Lago property, Friday, Jan. 3, in Palm Beach, Fla. AP

Saturday, January 11, 2020

I have no explanation for how I encountered several pro-Trump pages while stumbling through Facebook. Actually, I have no explanation for returning to Facebook except for fidelity to a handful of people I like and admire.

I would claim encountering the Trump pages happened while I was in a drunken stupor, but I don’t do stupors. Anyway, there I was. It was momentarily interesting to read the cultish dedication, but then I was struck by how so many of the faithful explained their admiration for their leader by describing him as the only politician that keeps his promises.

Some would even claim he has kept every campaign promise he made. I could feel my mental hackles rising. I think I would have a similar but diminished response if someone claimed that Bernie, who for me walks on water, had kept every campaign promise he ever made, but such a claim about a man who has lied 15,000 times since taking office, produced total mental piloerection.

The claim of 100% promise-keeping inspired a bit of checking. The first Google result was an Aug. 21, 2019, Washington Post opinion piece by Jennifer Rubin. She claims the only place Trump has kept his promises is on appointing conservative judges.

After comparing Trump’s economic progress with President Barack Obama, and his failure to keep his promises with respect to government debt, trade deficits, business investments and the trade war, she asserts that, “Recent reports only strengthen the argument against Trump’s ‘promises made, promises kept’ hooey.”

I love the use of the word hooey. Then she gets into promises not kept with respect to coal, steel and manufacturing.

I wanted more information so I went to Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter titled “Tracking Trump’s Campaign Promises.” They categorized promises as Kept, Compromise, Broken, Stalled, or In The Works.

Being a trifle biased, I did not always agree with their category assignments. For example, they rated "If I'm elected president, I'm accepting no salary." as Kept. Now strictly speaking this is a promise Kept. But I would still want it to have an asterisk with a note that indicates his golfing during his first three years has cost the government $118 million. Call me picky.

Under the Broken category, Politifact lists Trump’s promise to cancel all funding of sanctuary cities, establish a commission on radical Islam, push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress, bring back waterboarding, allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns, administer Medicaid through block grants to the states, establish a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S., remove existing Syrian refugees, sue the women who accused him of sexual misconduct, release his tax returns after an audit is completed, create targeted child care tax credits, cut the number of tax brackets, repeal the alternative minimum tax, eliminate the carried interest loophole, balance the federal budget fairly quickly, change the name of Mount Denali back to Mount McKinley and stop the AT&T Time Warner merger.

By my lights, Politifact gets the call wrong occasionally. For example, they categorize as Stalled this promise: “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Well the building of the wall may be stalled, but having Mexico pay for it is not stalled. Building it very inexpensively is not stalled. These are broken promises.

Politifact lists the promise “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid” as a Compromise. I call it a broken promise. Not cut means not cut. I guess I am picky.

So, we have the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact and other such sources, and those who rely on them, with one set of facts, and the president’s gang and those who rely on it with their contradictory alternative facts.

But if you believe that a fact must be consistent with objective reality and it can be confirmed with evidence, then you cannot believe there are contradictory facts.

The issue remains: where is the evidence to be gathered. If each side considers the other side’s evidence as fake, there can be no resolution. We may have networks that claim to be the most trusted, but where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, wo wo wo.

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts.