Donald Trump lies. It’s what he does.
He lies nonchalantly. He lies without apparent reason or remorse. And he lies all the time.
In September, Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star, started posting a list on Twitter of all the provably false statements he hears from Trump on the campaign trail each day.
Over 25 days (starting on September 15 and ending on October 24, with some days off for Dale in between), Trump lied on at least 378 occasions.
It might not be technically fair to call all of these statements "lies" — it’s possible Trump believes them to be true. (And on a couple of occasions, Dale has tallied "lies" that aren't technically falsehoods — like the allegation that Bill Clinton "can't practice law" — and that therefore we haven't counted here.) But at a certain point, his callous disregard for facts crosses the line into criminal neglect.
On debate days, Dale counted at least 30 falsehoods a night. On typical days on the campaign trail, he often counted at least a dozen. In fact, as Trump has gotten closer to Election Day, he's started lying more often — on all but one day Dale's tracked since the second debate, Trump has approached or exceeded the 18-lie mark he set before the first debate.
Even more alarming, while Trump often repeats some of his lies from one day to the next, most of the lies Dale recorded were just told once. Over the 25 days Dale’s recorded so far, Donald Trump has told a total of 212 unique lies.
Trump lies in several distinct ways. He has particular genres of lies that he comes back to time and again, which show both the casual attitude he has toward truth and the impact his obfuscations have on the debate around him.
1) He lies about tiny things. As Dale wrote, "Trump, for example, likes to read the lyrics to the song 'The Snake' as an allegory for the supposed danger posed by Muslim refugees. He has repeatedly claimed it was written by singer Al Wilson, who performed it in the late 1960s. In fact, it was written in the early 1960s by Oscar Brown Jr., the late singer and civil rights activist, whose family has asked Trump to stop using it."
2) He lies about crucial policy differences, like saying on 11 separate occasions that his tax plan would cut "your taxes" (which isn't true unless everyone listening to him is extremely rich) and 13 times saying that Hillary Clinton would substantially increase "your taxes" (which is, again, not accurate unless he's only talking to very rich people).
3) Trump lies about chronology. The union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents endorsed Trump on September 26, ahead of the first debate (at which he said he'd been "endorsed by ICE," which isn't the same thing). As late as October 21, after the last debate, Trump was saying he'd been endorsed by the union "just last week." (Trump also cites outdated statistics as if they're current; his claim that "homicides are up 60 percent in Baltimore" would have been accurate in 2015, but they've fallen sharply this year.)
4) He makes himself into the victim. Sometimes this means that he takes things that have been said about him and says them about Clinton instead — like saying she lies more than any human being. Sometimes it means inserting himself into a scandal about somebody else. When a hacked email revealed that Hillary Clinton had gotten one question in advance of a Democratic primary town hall, he turned it into an allegation that Clinton was "just recently, word for word, given the questions" to a debate — and sometimes, for good measure, he says she was given the answers as well.
5) He takes facts that should bolster his argument and exaggerates them beyond recognition. The murder rate rose in 2015 — because murder has become so infrequent in the US compared with rates a quarter-century ago, the rise amounted to a 10 percent jump in the murder rate, which was the biggest percentage increase in 45 years. In itself, that could have bolstered Trump's argument that America needs a stiff dose of law and order. But instead, Trump claims that murders are at a 45-year high.
6) He endorses blatant conspiracy theories. When online conservatives, misinterpreting hacked emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, decided that Podesta was trying to skew the polls by asking an internal pollster to "oversample" Democrats, it took just one day for Trump to espouse the theory — calling it a "form of voter suppression."
7) He lies about things that have no basis in reality whatsoever. Trump has taken to saying on the campaign trail that Clinton wants "an open border with the Middle East." Where did he get this idea? Who knows. But he said it five times between October 15 and October 24.
8) He obscures the truth by denying he said things he said, or denying things are known that are known. After receiving classified security briefings where (according to reports) the issue of email hacks of Democratic organizations came up, he maintained that they might not have been hacked at all. In debates, he routinely denied the existence of his own ugliest statements. Relatedly, he also claims that things have been "debunked" when they haven't been — like the sexual assault allegations against him.
9) He lies about winning. Trump is probably not going to be the next president of the United States, but you wouldn't know it from listening to his speeches. He says he won the last debate (or, sometimes, the last two debates) "unanimously," when every reliable poll showed he lost them. He cites nonexistent polls to claim he's tied, or leading slightly, wherever he's speaking. (On one occasion, he claimed he was ahead in North Carolina, when 13 consecutive polls had shown him behind.) He claims that Clinton has "given up" on states like Ohio, without evidence.
In one sense, this is the most harmless of all of Trump's lies — either he's right, and the polls really aren't telling the truth about his support, or he'll be proven wrong on Election Day, less than two weeks away. But when combined with his fearmongering about a "rigged election" and voter fraud (which, yes, includes more lies), it gets a lot more worrisome.
Trump's lies aren't preparing his followers to face the reality that their candidate is probably going to lose the election; they're preparing them to expect a victory, and to get very angry if it doesn't happen. To the extent that Trump's supporters understand that he's not currently favored to win, it's because they're not listening to the candidate himself.
Counting all of Trump's lies can numb you, but every one is a crack in the bedrock of democracy
Dale’s experience has been both illuminating and exhausting. (He wrote an essay about it for Politico Magazine.) But his efforts have proved that it’s theoretically possible to process all of Trump’s lies, and other news outlets have started to follow suit. Politico Magazine, counting both candidates’ tweets as well as speeches and interviews, tallied 87 Trump lies over five days — an average of one lie every three minutes over about five hours’ worth of remarks. (Clinton didn’t do as much public speaking over the five days Politico tracked, but even if she had, Politico wrote, Trump's lie rate would "still surpass her nearly four times over.")
The Washington Post, doing a qualitative analysis of a week of Trump lies, concluded, "Trump has nevertheless revealed himself to be a candidate who at times seems uniquely undeterred by facts." The Sunday before the first debate, a headline on the front page of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times read, "Scope of Trump’s lies unmatched"; in the article, author Michael Finnegan argued, "Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has."
In this context, the analysis of the New York Times seems fairly conservative: It only tallied 31 Trump lies over a week in September.
The Times’s analysis ignored smaller lies and instead focused on the lies that "bolstered a powerful and self-aggrandizing narrative depicting him as a heroic savior for a nation menaced from every direction" — creating what Republican strategist Mike Murphy called "an unreality bubble."
If you try to dive into the reasons Trump lies, you’ve already lost. It grants his lies the dignity of a strategy. The truth is that by all appearances, Trump seems to lie whenever it suits him.
This is why, because Trump lies so nonchalantly and broadly, the practice of tallying his lies can end up being weirdly counterproductive. The more conservative tallies make Trump seem relatively honest; the more comprehensive ones just seem like numbers on a page.
Here is what you have to remember: Every single time Donald Trump lies, it is a blow to his integrity as a person and his reliability as a potential president.
Every time he tells a second lie in a day, or a third, or an 18th, he makes it harder for the rest of us to reconstitute the body of shared facts on which we can start to debate what’s best for America.
His supporters may not believe everything he says — in fact, they often say they don’t even think he believes everything he says. They assume he’s not going to do all the things he promises; the assumption that Trump is a liar is priced into their support of him. The literal things he says matter less to them as facts than as signals that he’s on their side.
We are looking at an existential threat to a key principle of democratic discourse: People can only debate and persuade each other if they agree on the basic facts of the world around them. They are entitled to their own opinions but not entitled to their own facts.
Every single time Donald Trump lies, that principle gets a little shakier and harder to maintain.
Politics isn’t poetry. A statement that is facially false but that hits at an emotional truth is still facially false. And it makes it all the harder for people who respond to the emotional truth to talk to those who don’t — they have no shared basis on which to discuss.
Shared facts should be the bedrock of democracy; Trump is turning it into a Jenga tower.
Donald Trump probably won't win the presidency, but it's not because he lies. And he's made it all the easier for future politicians to lie just as insistently and get away with it.