Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtuoso of Ignorance)

Published: September 8, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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photo: Martin Schoeller, TIME magainze

photo: Martin Schoeller, TIME magazine

How many ways can Donald Trump embarrass the American political process and the Republican Party? (He’s clearly immune from embarrassing himself.)

Let’s count the ways:

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” — Trump referencing Senator John McCain who spent more than five years as a POW during the Vietnam conflict.

According to Trump’s reasoning, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale, U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Clifford Acree, Army Air Corps 2nd Lieutenant Louis Zamperini, and thousands of other soldiers, are not heroes because they too were captured and held as prisoners.

Make America great again, the phrase, that was mine, I came up with it about a year ago, and I kept using it, and everybody’s now using it… I don’t know, I guess I should copyright it…” — March 2015

Anyone with Google or a memory would know that Ronald Reagan used that slogan over 35 years ago on his campaign materials.

But let’s drill a bit deeper into the circus of misstatements by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

Under the Iran deal: “If Israel attacks Iran … we’re supposed to be on Iran’s side.”
— September 3, 2015

Politifact rates this: FALSE. “Nothing in the provision compels the U.S. to offer any assistance to Iran in the event of a threat to its nuclear program.”

“We have 93 million people out of work. They look for jobs, they give up, and all of a sudden, statistically, they’re considered employed.”
— August 28, 2015

Politifact rates this: FALSE. “Once you strip out full-time students, senior citizens, the disabled, and those who have chosen not to work to take care of their children, a more reasonable estimate of ‘out of work’ Americans is somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 million, or less than a quarter of Trump’s figure. Meanwhile, he is flat wrong that the government reclassifies discouraged workers as ‘employed.’ ”

“We’re the most highly taxed nation in the world.”
— August 24, 2015 (Fox & Friends)

Politifact rates this: FALSE. “Depending on the measurement you use, the United States is either in the middle of the pack or on the lighter end of taxation when compared to other advanced industrialized nations.”

“Trump said the number of illegal immigrants in the United States is ‘30 million, it could be 34 million.’ ”

Politifact rates this: PANTS ON FIRE. “Federal officials say the number is about 11.4 million — a number backed up by various groups that study immigration in depth.”

Of 43 statements checked by Politifact, Trump’s scorecard (as of Sept. 4), stands at: 24 percent Mostly True or Half-True; 58 percent False or Mostly False; and 19 percent Pants-on-Fire. None of candidate Trump’s 43 statements were given a True rating.

Think I’m cherry-picking? looked at Trump’s August 25 press conference:

– “Trump claimed ‘59 percent of our bridges are in trouble.’ That’s way off. The Federal Highway Administration says 24 percent of the nation’s bridges were ‘structurally deficient’ or ‘functionally obsolete’ in 2014.

– “Trump said a recent poll in Florida showed him at 28 percent and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, ‘much lower.’ Bush wasn’t that much lower. The most recent poll, released Aug. 20 by Quinnipiac University, showed Trump at 21 percent and Bush at 17 percent in Florida.

– “Trump said under Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker the state is ‘borrowing to a point that nobody thought possible.’ Actually, the rate of borrowing has slowed under Walker. It was 5.8 percent over his first four years in office compared with 31 percent over the previous four-year period.

– “Trump said the U.S. debt is $19 trillion, adding ‘it’s actually much more than that.’ Actually, it’s a little less — $18.2 trillion — and that includes money the federal government owes itself. The U.S. debt held by the public is $13.1 trillion.”

Candidate Trump’s key populist issue has long been immigration, but points out that Trump is far from factually accurate.

– “He said ‘birthright citizenship’ is the ‘biggest magnet for illegal immigration.’ Actually, research indicates the biggest draw is economic opportunity.

– “He claimed taxpayers have paid ‘hundreds of billions’ in health care, education, welfare and more for illegal immigration from Mexico. But the Congressional Budget Office found the net financial impact of illegal immigration on state and local budgets was ‘most likely modest.’ ”

– “Trump says the ‘incarcerated alien population’ was responsible for ‘3 million arrests.’ The 2011 report he cites says there were 1.7 million arrests, including some that didn’t result in convictions or even prosecutions.

– “He said border crossing cards and NAFTA visas are ‘major’ sources of visa overstays, but we could find no data to support this. The most recent estimate showed border crossing cards made up 4 percent to 12 percent of those who violated the terms of a legal entry. And very few NAFTA visas are issued in comparison with other visas.”

Washington Post fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, famous for his Pinocchio scale, checked Trump’s August 18th statement: “Our real unemployment rate is 42 percent.”

Kessler’s rating: Four Pinocchios.

“While the official unemployment rate now is 5.3 percent,” Kessler writes, “there is a measure issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics known as the ‘labor underutilization’ rate, which at the time was 10.8 percent. This measure includes people who want to work but who have not looked for work recently enough to be counted in the most commonly used measure of the unemployment rate. But even that was half the level cited by Trump, making his statement false. Now he’s touting a figure that is more than double his previous claim. How does he figure that?”

On August 29, MSNBC reported that “Donald Trump handily won the straw poll at the National Federal of Republican Assemblies event in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday, becoming both the first and second top pick among conservatives here…”

What troubles me most is the fact that those who currently support Trump are so hungry for compelling leadership and effective governance that they’re willing to grab onto anyone who partakes in their anger.

However, the elephant in the room that candidates from both parties continue to ignore is this: no single individual has the absolute power to effect change. They need Congress, and as long as members remain intransigent, any meaningful change remains a distant hope.

It doesn’t take smarts or money to get angry. It doesn’t take intelligence to brag or bully. And it clearly doesn’t take someone with little grasp of factual knowledge. All it takes is the requisite arrogance, money and brand name… and Trump has all three.

Donald Trump may be the most successful builder/entrepreneur on the planet, but if he’s truly sincere about making America great again, he’s got to learn a lot more than simply tapping into the anger of the American voter.

At the end of his appearance in Tennessee, Trump said, “I don’t want it to be about me. This is about common sense.”

Common sense says that Donald Trump is far from being a leader with the vision, policies or character to represent America.

On Friday, I revisit the vaccination debate.


  1. I always love the liberal approach which enjoys hacking away at the enemies, but conveniently ignores the phony criminals in their own midst…oh, for example, Ms. Clinton. The bible had it right “You are quick to point out the mote in your neighbor’s eye but ignore the log in your own.” Welcome has been so boring since you left.

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