The Washington Post Fact Checker has just released its most recent analysis of the claims of President Trump and the results are nothing short of mind-boggling. In just 263 days POTUS has lied to the American people more than 1300 times. The figure includes exaggerations, hyperbole, and claims of both what he is going to do and what he claims has actually happened.
According to the Post:
The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.
It is hard to understand why so many people believe Trump until you understand what linguists and psychologists call “the illusory truth effect.” In its simplest terms, it means that people come to believe something because of repetition. As reported in Emily Dreyfus’ excellent article in Wired, repetition is what makes fake news work. The Liar-In-Chief repeats his lies so often that even the wariest reader is in danger of being duped. Because our psyches are hard-wired to equate repetition with truth. Marketing experts have known this for years and exploited it with amazing success. Now the purveyors of fake news are skillfully using the same tactics.
Of course there are those Trumpers who will believe anything he says, even without repetition. But those of us who consider ourselves more discerning need to be watchful. Repetition is insidious, and the human brain processes repetition as a learning exercise. Being alert and questioning is vital in these times of fake news, “alternative facts,” and gross exaggerations.
It is doubtful Trump comprehends the effectiveness of repetition, let alone the psychology behind it. It is far more likely that he is a victim of the phenomenon, believing his own lies and exaggerations. We can ask how he could look out on that minuscule crowd at his inauguration and see it as millions. But he has repeated it to himself often enough that it is now his personal truth. The same can be said of his other lies, and therein lies the danger to all of us. When a leader starts believing his own lies, he will do anything to support them, including the forceful silencing of his detractors. We have truly entered Orwell’s dystopian nightmare and we need to wake up.