Mister Motor-Mouth

Donald Trump says things. Some take him seriously, some don’t, and late last year there was this:

PolitiFact checked 77 Trump statements and found that 76 percent of them were Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

In other words, for every four statements Donald Trump makes, only one of them is true, according to the site.

“Clearly a lot of voters still care about the truth,” Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told PolitiFact. “What we don’t know at this point is what share that is.”

A lot of voters just gave up. The guy’s a motor-mouth and trying to sort out what’s what is now impossible – there’s too much to check – but Aaron Blake was amazed by this:

Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that he had seen video of the recently reported $400 million cash transfer between the United States and Iran – this despite no video of the exchange being public or known about. His campaign explained late Wednesday that he was mistaken and had actually seen video of American prisoners being released by Iran, not the money transfer.

And yet, there was Trump on Thursday afternoon on Portland, Maine, recounting the very same nonexistent video of the money transfer.

“You know, it was interesting, because a tape was made. Right? You saw that? With the airplane coming in? Nice plane,” Trump said. “And the airplane coming in, and the money coming off, I guess, right? That was given to us – has to be – by the Iranians. And you know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country.”

What’s up with that? His own campaign spokesperson admitted, the night before, there was no such tape. She didn’t tell him? Hope Hicks has a hard job, but she should be used to this:

Later in the very same speech, Trump brought up another story he often tells – one that fact-checkers have determined is without merit – that people saw bombs in the San Bernardino terrorists’ apartment but didn’t turn them in because they feared it would be viewed as racial profiling.

And less than a week ago, Trump again recounted seeing Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11 – another well-chewed-over allegation for which there exists basically no evidence.

This is a bit strange, and Blake sees this:

By now, it is well-established that Trump struggles with the facts, and he’s prone to apparently inventing stories about things. But Trump’s imagination is especially vivid and prolific when it comes to stories involving a specific topic: Muslims.

Yes, Trump has told stories before. Just a couple weeks ago, he recounted when Black Lives Matter protesters were “essentially calling death to the police.” This too has been debunked, but it at least has some basis in reality. Protesters in New York City in 2014 called for the killings of police, but they weren’t Black Lives Matter protesters, and BLM has disowned that rhetoric.

Similarly, he linked a protester at one of his events to ISIS – apparently because of a hoax video.

And just this week, he noted that Harrisburg, Pa., looked like a “war zone,” because it had so many closed factories – this despite the economy in the Pennsylvanian capitol being largely good, or at least better than much of the Rust Belt. Perhaps that’s an easy mistake to make when you’re touring economically distressed areas in the region.

Still, the folks in Harrisburg were a bit pissed off, but it’s the Muslim thing that really sends Trump into his alternative universe, and that’s been going on for years:

Trump’s rise to prominence in conservative circles was largely due to his questioning of the birth story of President Obama. While the “birther” controversy was about where Obama was born, it is inextricably linked to questions about what Obama’s true religion is, and many Americans who believe he was born in Kenya also believe he’s a Muslim. Trump himself mused that maybe the birth certificate would say that Obama was a Muslim.

Back in 2011, Trump also recalled an apparently nonexistent video of Obama’s grandmother saying she witness Obama’s birth in Kenya. Similarly, he said he had an authoritative source that the birth certificate was a fraud.

So he sees things that aren’t there, and talks about them, authoritatively. Many people do, on hospital psychiatric wings, but Politico notes he spun this yard in Maine:

He told the crowd that the money, paid by the U.S. to settle a decades-old dispute over a military equipment order, would end up either funding terrorism or in the pockets of Iranian politicians, and he suggested that the payment was made in a combination of euros, Swiss francs and other currencies because “they probably don’t want our currency.”

“How stupid are we to allow this to continue to go on? To see what’s happening. And you know, it was interesting, because a tape was made. Right? You saw that, with the airplane coming in?” Trump said, without acknowledging that his own campaign had contradicted his story a day earlier. …

“And they want to embarrass our president, because we have a president who’s incompetent,” he continued. “They want to embarrass our president. I mean, who would ever think that they would be taking all of this money off the plane and then providing us with the tape? It’s only for one reason, and it’s very, very sad.”

Many things are sad, and some of them are not what he thinks, and the man who now holds the job that Donald Trump wants, tried to return to this planet:

Later Thursday afternoon, during a news conference at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama disputed Trump’s allegations about the payment and dismissed the story as “the manufacturing of outrage.” He pointed out that the White House had been up front about the payment in January when it occurred and that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had spoken about it during a press briefing at the time.

“We don’t pay ransom for hostages,” Obama said, and suggested that the notion that the U.S. would reverse that longstanding policy in such a high-profile, public setting “defies logic.” He also said the timing of the cash delivery so close to the release of U.S. hostages was pure coincidence, the result of an opportunity to “clear accounts on a number of issues at the same time” presented by face-to-face meetings between American and Iranian officials.

“It’s been interesting to watch this story surface. Some of you may recall, we announced these payments in January. Many months ago. There wasn’t a secret. We announced them to all of you,” Obama said before offering a defense of the controversial nuclear agreement with Iran.

“If there is news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster say, you know, ‘this thing actually worked’? Now that would be a shock. That would be impressive,” he continued. “But of course that wasn’t going to happen. Instead what we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January.”

But Trump had tweeted this – “Our incompetent secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!”

The Washington Post’s fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, was once again forced to do the heavy lifting:

Clinton stepped down as secretary of state in early 2013. The deal involving the American detainees – including The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian – was announced in January this year, three years after the end of her tenure. Clinton did initiate negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program – though substantial talks with Iran did not take place until after she left.

But Clinton had nothing to do with talks on the detainees. Those occurred on a separate track, which U.S. officials said was necessary to not raise the price to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The $400 million payment – part of an overall $1.7 billion settlement of claims – was also announced by the State Department on Jan. 17, the same day that President Obama announced the release of the detainees. (He also made reference to a settlement of claims without mentioning a dollar figure.)

The main thing that was new in the Wall Street Journal article [that started all this] was that the $400 million was paid in cash, loaded on a cargo plane, and the timing of the transfer was close to the release of the detainees. The timing – which U.S. officials insisted was a coincidence – suggested the cash could be viewed as a ransom payment. In a follow-up article, the Wall Street Journal reported the Justice Department initially objected to the cash transfer for that reason.

They knew the timing would look bad, only the timing, because this had to happen:

The $400 million was always Iran’s money. In the 1970s, the then-pro-Western Iranian government under the shah paid $400 million for U.S. military equipment. But the equipment was never delivered because the two countries broke off relations after the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran.

It’s worth noting that a key element in the release of the hostages in 1981 was the United States agreed to release several billion dollars in Iranian gold and bank assets that had been frozen in U.S. banks.

Yes, it was Ronald Reagan who agreed to release several billion dollars in Iranian gold and bank assets to get our hostages back. Did he pay a ransom? That’s one way to look at it, and the Reagan administration set up what finally happened this week:

After the 1981 hostage deal, the two countries set up a tribunal in The Hague to litigate outstanding claims against each other. The $400 million remained unresolved, but U.S. officials say a ruling was expected that would have resulted in the return of the $400 million plus billions of dollars in outstanding interest. Instead, concurrent with the detainee negotiations, the two countries negotiated a deal that resulted in a return of the $400 million plus $1.3 billion in interest.

At the time, U.S. officials touted the agreement as a savings for American taxpayers. “Iran is unable to pursue a bigger tribunal award against us, preventing U.S. taxpayers from being obligated to a larger amount of money,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time. Obama said: “For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran.”

Clinton at the time released a statement hailing the release of the detainees but made no mention of the side agreement on The Hague tribunal claims.

The final side agreement cleaned up Reagan’s mess, saving us billions of dollars, and she had nothing to do with it – and the Iranians made no videotape of the transfer of hard currency in Tehran to blast out to the world to embarrass us. Perhaps they didn’t think of it – but Trump thought of it, and then somehow saw it, and then said he saw it, even if his own campaign says there was no such thing, because there was no such thing.

The whole thing is hardly worth talking about, because we’re used to Donald Trump just saying things, but this is amusing:

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly couldn’t conceal how baffled she was by Donald Trump’s choosing to remind voters about his oldest campaign controversies on the trail this week.

After Trump tried to rehash his dust-up over mocking a disabled reporter, his claim that he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on Sept. 11, 2001, and even his feud with Kelly during a town hall in Florida on Wednesday, Kelly cried, “What is he doing relitigating every controversy from the primary season?!”

After one of Kelly’s guests, Trump supporter David Wohl, reminded the host Trump also bragged about installing “expensive” handicap-accessible ramps at his properties – which are required by law – as evidence he’s a “tremendous fan” of the disabled, Kelly put her head in her hands.

“It’s true that the mainstream media now hates Trump,” she said. “But must he help them? Must he help them so generously every day?”

The video clip at the link is instructive. She looks like she’s about to bang her head on the table, but at Slate, Reihan Salam sees a silver lining to all this, if you follow his reasoning:

Donald Trump is a lunatic, and it is looking ever more likely that he will lose in November. Though Republican Senate candidates in competitive races are running well ahead of Trump for now, it is easy to see how his erratic behavior might start dragging them down. In the weeks since Trump formally secured the Republican presidential nomination, he has drawn almost as much attention for taking potshots at Republicans who’ve reluctantly endorsed him in the name of party unity as he has for attacking the woman he’s dubbed “Crooked Hillary.” It is hardly surprising that senior Republicans are panicking.

Here’s what’s most interesting to me about Trump’s shambolic campaign: By saying whatever pops into his head, regardless of what previous Republican candidates have been saying for years, Trump is greasing the wheels for other Republicans to abandon positions that are not terribly popular. This is not something Trump is doing intentionally, as far as I can tell. He appears to be largely indifferent to the fate of other Republican candidates. It just so happens that Trump’s lack of discipline is giving other Republicans the opportunity to discard baggage that’s been weighing them down for years.

That’s the upside of Trump being an impulsive random motor-mouth:

Earlier this week, for example, Trump declared that he favored an infrastructure program “at least double” the size of the one Hillary Clinton has proposed. Why double? Why not triple? What about a program a bajillion times larger?

Why not? He just says things, but that can be useful:

Trump’s infrastructure musings were not the product of careful consideration. He has not closely analyzed America’s infrastructure needs and developed a comprehensive and sustainable strategy for meeting them. What he has done is demonstrate to Republican politicians that deficit spending is acceptable, provided it’s used for something that sounds appealing, such as bridges and roads. There are all kinds of reasons why just choosing a number at random and deciding we’re going to spend it on infrastructure is a terrible idea. My own view is that public infrastructure spending in the U.S. tends to be extremely wasteful and that we ought to implement serious reforms before we even consider making new investments. But that’s beside the point. For better or for worse, Trump is undermining the Republican taboo against deficit spending. Never do you hear him call for a balanced budget amendment, a not-very-good idea that conservatives have been talking up for decades.

Does this mean that Republicans who’ve embraced Trump’s infrastructure ramblings were hypocrites for attacking President Obama’s fiscal stimulus? Absolutely, if you believe opposition to the stimulus was primarily about deficit spending. But opposition to the stimulus also had a lot to do with who benefited from that outlay.

If you’ll recall, the stimulus did a number of things, from helping state and local governments meet their payrolls to financing infrastructure projects to increasing transfers to low-income households and the unemployed. It’s easy to imagine favoring some kinds of deficit spending and opposing others. To be blunt, Trump could be telegraphing that he has no problem with deficit spending on roads and bridges, because it will mean jobs for the kind of people he happens to like, but he does have a problem with deficit spending on, say, SNAP benefits for poor immigrant-headed households, because he doesn’t like them. Who the hell knows? All we can safely say is that Trump has moved Republicans away from the fairly rigid anti-deficit stance they’ve maintained for most of the Obama years. Chances are Republicans would have abandoned this stance regardless once there was another Republican in the White House, but Trump seems to have sped up the process just a little bit.

Trump has liberated them, as he has with the Iraq war:

At the beginning of this year’s presidential race, most of the Republican candidates couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge that the invasion was a catastrophic strategic blunder. As a general rule, they wanted to move on to other, more congenial questions, such as whether the Obama administration had been wise in its handling of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Part of this reluctance to condemn the invasion no doubt flowed from the fact that most Republicans supported it and that it would be more than a little awkward to declare that they’d all been mistaken. Trump had no such compunctions. As the nominee, he’s condemned Clinton for supporting the Iraq war, a bizarre role reversal that few other Republicans could have pulled off.

Does Trump have a credible case that his judgment on Iraq was superior to Clinton’s? Not even close. But his position on Iraq has allowed other Republicans to free themselves of George W. Bush’s Iraq legacy.

This is a good thing for Republicans, as is this:

The Clinton campaign has successfully wooed a number of wealthy Republican donors to the Democratic side, including Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, and Seth Klarman, billionaire founder of the Baupost Group. Many other wealthy conservatives are choosing to sit this election out rather than support Trump. Drawing on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, John Carney and Anupreeta Das of the Wall Street Journal recently reported that people working in the financial services industry have donated $41.4 million to Clinton and pro-Clinton groups and $109,004 to Trump and to pro-Trump groups. One assumes that Trump’s haul from hedge funders and private equity investors will increase in the months to come, as his campaign has only started soliciting contributions in the past few weeks. In July alone, Trump and the Republican National Committee managed to raise $82 million, at least some of which surely came from Wall Street. But unlike Mitt Romney in 2012, it looks increasingly likely that Trump will raise more from small donations than from large ones.

What does this all mean? For one thing, it means Trump is under no obligation to defend Wall Street’s interests over the coming months. Whether Trump wins or loses in November, he will have demonstrated that there is a path to the winning the GOP presidential nomination that owes nothing to the wealthiest members of the party’s donor base. Trump will probably lose, but if he loses by a more or less respectable margin, ambitious Republicans will surely be tempted to recreate his coalition, working under the assumption that a candidate who was less of a lunatic might have secured a victory.

And a weight will have been lifted as no one will ever again mock them as the party of the rich:

If I were a senior Republican, I’d be panicking too. Donald Trump isn’t just making their lives more difficult. He is actively destroying the Wall Street–friendly GOP they know and love.

No one will miss it, but then there’s Sophia McClennen, a Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics, is cool, but back in April she was worried about Trump:

The Donald Trump gaffe track keeps playing. The GOP frontrunner seems to literally spew out a doozy almost daily. Campaigning in Pittsburgh, he recently blathered, “How’s Joe Paterno? We gonna bring that back? Right? How about that – how about that whole deal?”

While his campaign suggested he was referring to the former Penn State football coach’s statue, it was hard to shake the sense that Trump was unaware that Paterno died in 2012 and that Pittsburgh has no direct tie to the sports program at Penn State, which is located three hours east.

Then there was the time that Sean Hannity asked Trump which government agencies Trump would shut down, “The Department of Environmental,” Trump replied. That exact sort of gaffe killed Rick Perry’s entire campaign, but despite some biting Stephen Colbert mockery, the mistake hasn’t seemed to hurt Trump at all. He won New York despite suggesting September 11 happened on 7/11.

But here’s the thing, the Trump campaign seems to be filled with more than just gaffes. Channeling his inner Sarah Palin, Trump’s rants often seem to lose any connection with reality at all.

Here she refers to Trump’s interview with the Washington Post editorial board in March, and to the exchange when one of the editors asked Trump if he would consider using a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS and got this:

TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way, he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…

RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?

TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good-looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?

McClennen is more worried now:

We have become so accustomed to these sorts of ramblings that we don’t really register them as anything more than standard nonsensical Trump-speak – a pattern of speech we have seen crop up across the GOP in recent years, most notably in Palin’s gibberish. But I urge you to re-read the exchange above and register the range of nonsense – the lack of basic grammar, the odd syntax, the abrupt shift in topic, the disconnect from reality, the paranoia, and the seeming inability to even grasp the question.

Something is going on here:

As we scratch our heads and wonder how someone who says and does such things can still be a frontrunner, I want to throw out a concern. What if Trump isn’t “crazy” but is actually not well instead? To put it differently: what if his campaign isn’t a sign of a savvy politician channeling Tea Party political rhetoric and reality TV sound bites? What if it’s an example of someone who doesn’t have full command of his faculties?

We’ve watched both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton come under fire for potentially being unfit medically to run, but have we wondered enough about Trump? There is far more media coverage about Clinton’s health at 68 than Trump’s at 69.

There could be a good reason why. At times it can be very hard to distinguish between extreme right-wing politics and symptoms of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that if two of the following core mental functions seem impaired then it is time to seek medical help: Memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, visual perception. Alzheimer’s carries other symptoms besides memory loss including difficulty remembering newly learned information, disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes.

That is something to consider:

The first time I wondered at something being not quite right with Trump’s brain was during the first debate in August 2015 when Trump said “We need brain in this country to turn it around.” Even my 10-year-old son noted that Trump had suggested we need intelligence in government in a really stupid way. But it was more than stupid; it was ungrammatical. It wasn’t simply a basic use of language; it lacked the grammar structure that even a third grader has readily available. And for all of the ease with which we Trump bash, it’s worth remembering that he did, in fact, graduate from Wharton as an undergraduate in economics. He might have been full of bluster back then, but I’m guessing he still could speak in a complete sentence.

Last October, Death and Taxes ran a piece wondering if Trump had dementia. They pointed to the fact that Trump’s father, Fred, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years prior to his death. They also highlighted Trump’s aggressive late-night tweets, his childish behavior, his name-calling and mood swings. They explained that it would be really easy for Trump take some tests and prove that he is mentally fit. “Because if Trump can prove he’s not suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder that has left him with a damaged mind devoid of all shame or self-awareness, he might just be an asshole.”

Now it may seem like I’m taking this in a flip manner and not respecting the real health challenges that face those that suffer these ailments. But that’s actually my point. I need to be reassured that Trump is indeed okay so that the jokes about him remain funny.

That can be tricky:

One excellent example was John Oliver’s brilliant piece on Trump that ended by outing that Trump’s name had originally been Drumpf – a truth that was extremely ironic since Trump himself likes to mock others for their names. In the bit Oliver called Trump a “serial liar” who had “a string of broken business ventures and the support of a former Klan leader, who he can’t decide whether or not to condemn.” It was Oliver’s most watched segment from Last Week Tonight. But it’s not funny if Trump really can’t actually remember his family history, his business past, or who David Duke is. … It’s not funny if he really has lost the ability to speak like a healthy adult.

Yes, Donald Trump says things. Some take him seriously, some don’t. Some of what he says is nonsense, some seems delusional, some seems dangerous, and some, in an odd way, is useful to Republicans who want to hold onto their offices, which now depends on not seeming like rigid fools and tools of Wall Street – but somehow it’s all random. He just talks. Hospital psychiatric wings are full of such people. We might not want to put one in the Oval Office.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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