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Cokie and Steven Roberts: The heart of our democracy

By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

President Donald Trump has escalated his war on facts and fact-finders. On issues ranging from climate change and missile testing to intelligence estimates and economic statistics, the Lord of the Lies consistently fabricates evidence to fit his own misshapen view of reality.

As a result, he is polluting the whole policy process. It’s totally legitimate to have different priorities, preferences and constituencies. But sensible — and effective — programs are impossible if there is no agreement on independent information gathered and analyzed by professional procedures.

The Emperor of Error has extended his pattern of perversion to the political sphere, where he retweeted a video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that deliberately distorted her speech cadence to make her seem incoherent.

That went too far even for some Republicans, like Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who told CBS, “You shouldn’t disseminate information that you know is ultimately doctored.” The president’s strategy of deception, Hurd added, is “something that gets at the heart of our democracy.”

There’s nothing new about any of this. The Washington Post calculates that the president has made more than 10,000 “false or misleading statements” since taking office. But the problem is getting worse. It’s bad enough for the president to attempt to deflate the intelligence of a political rival, or inflate the size of his crowds or his wealth. It’s far more damaging for him to undermine the essential functions of government.

Take the issue of North Korea’s missile tests. National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters there was “no doubt” that Pyongyang had violated United Nations Security Council resolutions by launching at least three short-range ballistic missiles earlier this month. Yet the president, with absolutely no evidence to support his view, blithely remarked, “My people think it could have been a violation. I view it differently.”

“Lying about what the North Koreans are doing is a recipe for disaster,” Jeffrey Lewis, an arms expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told The Washington Post. It will only encourage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to test more and bigger weapons as a way of ratcheting up pressure on Trump, who longs for a deal with Kim to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

The president has long clashed with his own intelligence analysts because they documented Russian meddling on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election. Now he’s retaliated by assigning a political ally, Attorney General William Barr, to investigate how the CIA and the FBI handled their inquiries.

James Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, told the Post that Barr’s appointment is “a complete slap in the face to the director of national intelligence.”

Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, called it “yet another destruction of norms that weakens our intelligence community.”

Trump is also intent on weakening climate scientists, who have repeatedly warned about the dangers of global warming. “In the next few months,” reports The New York Times, “the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration.”

One key to that rollback: barring government scientists from projecting the fallout from global warming past 2040, when the damage is expected to increase dramatically.

“What we have here is a pretty blatant attempt to politicize the science — to push the science in a direction that’s consistent with their policies,” said Philip R. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center. “It reminds me of the Soviet Union.”

Trump has long sought to politicize — and demonize — another branch of independent inquiry: economics. He has regularly defied reality by saying trade wars are “easy to win” and that tax cuts pay for themselves — both blatant falsehoods.

Now, reports Catherine Rampell in the Post, “Slowly but surely, the Trump administration has been chipping away at the independence and integrity of our federal statistical agencies, whose data is critical to keeping our democracy functioning and our economy healthy.”

One devious proposal: Recalibrate how the poverty line is determined so that fewer Americans will fall below it and qualify for various forms of federal aid. Rampell calls the change a “double win” for Trump: “It allows you to claim your policies have lifted families out of poverty, even if they’re still struggling. It’s also a back-door way to slash spending on the safety net.”

Government can only work when decisions are based on facts, not fantasies. The “heart of our democracy” is truly threatened when the president violates that principle — over and over again.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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