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Time was when getting caught in a malicious lie about a rival would have ended an American politician’s career. We no longer live that way. Just the other day, Donald Trump unleashed a series of falsehoods attacking President Biden that would have shamed a carnival barker.
Speaking to a rally in South Dakota, Trump delivered a series of mocking claims, beginning with the allegation that the administration was using made-up jobs numbers when the truth is that only 2.1 million jobs have been created during the president’s 30 months in office. The actual statistics show somewhere over 13 million—including near-record growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) during the recovery from the 2020 Covid slump.
Then Trump got personal. “He makes up these stories, like there’s a picture of a fighter jet…[mocking] You know like ‘I used to be a fighter jet pilot.’ Then there’s a picture of a truck. ‘I used to drive a truck.’ The worst is, did you ever see his golf swing? He said he’s a six-handicap! A six handicap is a good golfer. This guy can’t hit a ball… I think that’s the biggest lie of all, if you want to know the truth.”
Trump shakes his head in feigned disbelief as the crowd laughs and applauds. (Never mind that there’s a best-selling book by veteran sportswriter Rick Reilly called Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump describing how he races down fairways in his golf cart, kicks opponent’s balls into ponds, drops his own onto the green, etc. Filled with interviews of golf pros and caddies, it’s actually quite funny.)
So is Trump’s performance, or would be if you didn’t know—South Dakota isn’t exactly a golfing hotbed—that every single word of it is a malicious lie. Joe Biden has never claimed to be a truck driver or a fighter pilot. Don’t you think you’d have heard?
Biden has mostly made self-deprecating jokes about his golf game, commenting that “the course record remains intact” after his initial outing as president. Back in 2018 he carried a USGA handicap of 6.7, according to Golf News Net, which is pretty good—no surprise as Biden was an accomplished athlete as a young man. But he’s never boasted about it.
Anyway, who cares? As a politician, Trump himself is treated by audiences and reporters alike as a stand-up comic. Which would be fine if he stuck to stage performances. Alas, polls show that millions of gullible Americans believe even the most absurd of his inventions. Deep-thinking pundits are writing columns about Biden’s great unpopularity, which reality-oriented blogger Kevin Drum shows is largely a function of false memories.
I like Drum because he’s an engineer by training who lives in Orange County, California and is congenitally immune to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom. Recently he posted a graph comparing the “favorability” ratings of the last several presidents at the equivalent point in their respective administrations. It turns out that they all hovered in the forties. It comes with the territory. Biden’s in no worse shape politically than Clinton, Obama, or Trump.
Only George W. Bush, thanks to the strong patriotic surge in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was in better shape. However, Dubya’s disastrous second term drove his approval down to 24 percent by 2008.
So, no President Biden isn’t deeply unpopular with the public, and certainly not in comparison with Trump, whose negatives are markedly worse even in Fox News surveys. That said, polls mean very little at this point in the election cycle, and have pretty much failed to predict the results in any of the last several national contests.
Remember the vaunted “Red Wave” in 2022? Never happened. People pretty much don’t answer their phones unless they know who’s calling. The whole business of public opinion polling is an increasingly shaky enterprise.
I suspect it’s pretty much the same with the whole Fox News-generated Hunter Biden saga. Supposedly a majority of Americans believes Joe Biden has violated the law in his dealings with his wayward son. Apart from not paying his taxes on time, however, it isn’t even clear what crimes the younger Biden’s alleged to have committed. It’s not against the law to work for a foreign corporation, nor to drop Daddy’s name in business meetings.
If it were, there wouldn’t be a Trump sibling walking around free, much less cashing humungous checks from Saudi Arabia.
Doting father that he is, I quite doubt that Joe Biden fills out Hunter’s IRS form 1040. Nor that after decades in public life with no sign of financial impropriety, he suddenly got greedy in his 70s. However, Fox News imagineers appear to have persuaded millions of viewers that with all the manure they’ve shoveled, there must be a pony.
Gullible cynicism regarding politicians is always fashionable. But if they go ahead and impeach the president, they’d better produce that pony.
Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.
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I walked past the TV in the living room just now, and the chryron on the screen read, “Election deniers in charge of elections in 17 states.” It came to me that we’ve entered a period when the political polarization of the country has become physical, because a huge section of our nation is uninhabitable by increasing numbers of citizens.
It's in the headlines, and it’s not just about voting rights and the problem of election deniers and the millions of our fellow citizens who continue to think that their substitute god, Donald Trump, lost the election of 2020 because it was “rigged” somehow. Here’s a headline for you, from The Guardian: “‘It’s demoralizing’: Idaho abortion ban takes toll on medical providers.” The story is about “an exodus of OB-GYNs and other medical providers” from Idaho because of the conservative state’s strict abortion ban.
One obstetrician, Dr. Stacy Seyb, whose specialty is high-risk pregnancies, has seen a steep increase in the number of patients he sees because doctors like him have already left the state. Multiple hospitals in Idaho have closed their maternity wards. Doctors don’t want to deal with the kinds of patients Seyb sees every day because they might face criminal penalties for giving care that they gave as a matter of course only 11 months ago. Seyb has seen so many colleagues leave the state, he mourns the loss of their friendship. “It feels like a step backward in improving the health of women and children in the state,” Seyb told The Guardian. He believes that soon in Idaho, “we’ll see a collapse in women’s healthcare.”
Here’s another headline for you, this one from ABC News: “Doctors face tough decision to leave states with abortion bans.” In the article, a doctor from North Carolina is moving to California because North Carolina’s 12 week abortion ban makes it impossible for her to care for patients who show signs of fetal abnormalities that often don’t occur or can’t be detected until 20 weeks or more of pregnancy. “It's really put me in a position of moral distress on more than one occasion,” the doctor told ABC.
It isn’t just North Carolina and Idaho. ABC News interviewed doctors in Texas, Ohio, and Florida who said they were leaving their states because of “the impact abortion bans have had on their ability to practice medicine and provide the best care possible for patients.” And it isn’t just doctors. Citizens of states with abortion bans of one kind or another are moving to states with no abortion bans, especially young women. Students applying for colleges are taking into consideration whether the college they want to attend is in a state that will make it illegal for them to have an abortion if that becomes necessary for them. The same is true for college graduates looking for jobs.
States with restrictions on voting, many of them race-based, are causing people to think about leaving their states, and in many cases, hometowns they’ve lived in since birth. They feel as if their states have seceded from them personally, if not from the United States as a whole. We’re in the early months and days after the Dobbs decision, but if I were to guess, the next census is going to show a reversal of a decades long trend of population growth in the so-called Sun Belt, which includes states with abortion bans and restricted voting like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Northern states with strict laws against abortion like North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska – states with populations that are already low and really can’t afford to lose citizens – may see a brain-drain associated with their restrictive laws.
In states that had abortion referendums on the ballot in 2022 -- California, Michigan, Vermont, Kentucky, and Montana – voters upheld maintaining access to abortion. A measure to amend the constitution in Ohio to allow a right to abortion will be on the ballot next year, as will a constitutional amendment in Maryland. The way Republicans have reacted to the spate of recent wins by abortion rights supporters in state referendums is to attempt put restrictions on ballot measures or to ban them altogether. If that starts to happen in red states, it is likely we’ll see more population shifts away from those states, because not only do people not like their rights taken away, such as the right to vote and the right to have an abortion, they absolutely don’t like having their right to put measures to the vote of the populace of a state taken away.
And of course abortion will be on the ballot in every state in the Union in 2024 when it comes to voting for president, Congress, and other positions of power and authority. It is possible that there will be a significant defection from Republican candidates across the board, especially by independent and moderate voters.
Red states are seceding from the Union in every way without outright declarations of secession, but more importantly, citizens are seceding from states they no longer feel comfortable living in. It’s not a Civil War, but it’s the next thing to it, it’s going to change this country for decades to come, and not in ways that will favor the political party that is pushing authoritarian laws on citizens unwilling to live under them.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.