So Trump’s inauguration was on Friday. It was obvious that the inauguration — while well-attended — was not as well-attended as Obama’s. There were visible open spaces on the mall, MTA ridership was down and ballpark estimates were low. 250,000 tickets were sent out but it looks like the total crowd was in about the half million range or a bit below. This would be massively less than Obama’s crowds, but close to what Bush drew. Estimates will come out soon (the Park Service no longer make estimates after Louis Farrakhan threw a fit over his “million man march” drawing “only” 400,000 people.)
For some reason, Trump and his supporters got in a tizzy over the low attendance numbers though. There were a number of arguments that could be made in Trump’s favor: the weather wasn’t great; Trump’s supporters are more working class; DC is a very heavily Democratic town; there’s less of a cult following of Trump; etc. But instead of doing that, Trump decided to go with an outright brassbound cringingly obvious lie:
White House press secretary Sean Spicer came to the briefing room Saturday to chastise journalists for their coverage of attendance at President Trump’s inauguration before leaving the briefing room without taking any questions.
“Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted,” Spicer said, his voice escalating in volume. “No one had numbers…because the National Park Service does not put any out.” He said the same applied to “any attempt to count the protesters today,” referring to the Women’s March on Washington that packed the National Mall area.
Despite the lack of numbers he cited, Spicer went on to assert “this was the largest audience to ever witness the inauguration period both in person and around the globe.”
“Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall,” Spicer said. He described what he considered unfair visuals from the event: “This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings were used to protect the grass on the mall…That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing while in years past, the grass eliminated this visual.”
Later, Spicer blasted the reporting as “shameful” and “wrong,” calling them “attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration.”
Spicer cited false MTA ridership figures, made false claims about floor coverings (which were used in past inaugurations), blasted the media and then stomped out. You have to watch it to get the full flavor. He was angry. It reminded me of nothing so much as Bill Clinton wagging his finger at us and insisting he’d never touched Monica.
(Spicer also blasted Time for incorrectly reporting that MLK’s bust has been removed from the Oval Office. The reporter in question realized within hours that his view was obstructed and apologized for the error. Spicer accepted the apology on Twitter, then went out and had a hissy fit about it anyway.)
Look, I’m used to politicians lying. But never this blatantly, this stupidly or this angrily. It’s usually stuff like claiming small decreases in spending growth are “draconian cuts” that they’re the most transparent administration ever. It’s usually stuff they can weasel around. But this was an obvious lie, a ridiculous lie, the kind you would have expected for Baghdad Bob.
There’s a lot of theories floating around. Some people think Trump is gaslighting the country — trying to lie so much about little things that his lies about big things will be swallowed. Some people think he’s trying to distract attention away from other things (although the number of dumb Trump lies and dumb Trump scandals is so high, they’re guaranteed to overlap). I never ascribe to conspiracy, however, what can be ascribed to incompetence. Trump is just a dumb, venal, conceited man who desperately wants to think he is beloved and worshipped. Hence the hilarious claims that he won the election in the biggest landslide in history. Hence the bizarre claims that his approval numbers are rigged. Hence the surreal sight of a press secretary screaming at the press that a million and a half people attending the inauguration, apparently mostly disguised as empty reviewing stands. He desperately wants our admiration and worship, the two things he will never get. Because even if his Presidency goes exceedingly well … he’ll still be Donald Trump. He’s never going to be Reagan or even Bush 41. The most he can aspire to be is a low-rent Bill Clinton, a President we can say did a good job but was still a horse’s ass.
There is one real concern here, however. If the Trump Administration gets a reputation for dishonesty, it could create problems in foreign relations. If we need to reassure China that we have no intention of recognizing Taiwan, they need to believe that. If we have to mitigate a conflict between India and Pakistan, both sides have to trust us. If we tell the world that Iran has restarted its nuclear program, they can’t think we’re full of shit.
This reflexive flagrant dishonesty is going to bite us in the ass down the road.
Update: This nails it:
Rule #1 for press relations is that you can obfuscate, you can misrepresent, you can shade the truth to a ridiculous degree, or play dumb and pretend not to know things you absolutely do know. But you can’t peddle affirmative, provable falsehoods. And it’s not because there’s some code of honor among press secretaries, but because once you’re a proven liar in public, you can’t adequately serve your principal. Every principal needs a spokesman who has the ability, in a crunch, to tell the press something important and know that they’ll be believed 100 percent, without reservation.
Sean Spicer is blowing credibility on an issue that means absolutely nothing. What’s he going to do when we’re on the brink of a war or something?