Who actually was probably the most dishonest president?

Composite image of Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B Johnson, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon

Composite picture of Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B Johnson, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon

Former President Donald Trump was usually accused of getting an entire disregard for the reality. Yet a few of his predecessors’ falsehoods ranged from the weird to the horrifying. So how does Trump actually examine?

When Saddam Hussein invaded the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait in August 1990, President George HW Bush snarled: “This will not stand.”

But as US troops had been scrambled to the Gulf, the American public was doubtful concerning the justification for navy motion.

The Kuwaiti government-in-exile promptly employed a US public relations agency, Hill & Knowlton, whose Washington DC workplace was run by Bush’s former chief of employees.

The PR agency coached a purported witness, launched as a 15-year-old lady known as “Nayirah”, to tearfully inform US congressmen in October 1990 that Iraqi troopers had entered a hospital in Kuwait, eliminated infants from incubators and left them to die on the chilly ground.

Nayirah, reporters had been assured, was utilizing an assumed title for fear of reprisals towards her household again home.

Only after the conflict would it not emerge she was the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the US. And her story was utterly baseless, as John MacArthur particulars in his e-book, Second Front, Censorship and Propaganda within the 1991 Gulf War.

Bush is recorded as having publicly touted this tall story at the very least six instances as he blew the bugle of conflict.

George HW Bush at the White House in 1991, with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, prior to commencement of Desert StormGeorge HW Bush at the White House in 1991, with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, prior to commencement of Desert Storm

George HW Bush on the White House in 1991, with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, previous to graduation of Desert Storm

“Babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor,” the president mentioned on one event throughout a speech to US troops in Saudi Arabia.

MacArthur writes that the hoax helped rally the American individuals behind requires navy motion.

In January 1991, Bush’s conflict decision narrowly handed the Senate. Six senators cited the incubators story as justification for authorising the battle, notes MacArthur.

Operation Desert Storm launched days later.

The irony is that it appears infants really did perish after being faraway from incubators throughout Gulf War One. Only it reportedly occurred in a large US-led allied air raid.

On the primary night time of bombing, as electrical energy failed amid the explosions, panicking moms took their newborns from the machines at a paediatric hospital in Baghdad and sheltered in a chilly basement the place greater than 40 of the infants died, in keeping with a recent New York Times report.

They had been amongst hundreds of civilians estimated killed within the 42-day battle.

While it has by no means been established that Bush knew the incubators story he repeatedly informed was unfounded, the White House is mostly anticipated to confirm claims made by the president – particularly one so horrifying.

American journalists didn’t debunk the Nayirah testimony till after the conflict. The controversy was omitted from a current admiring biography of Bush, and from glowing protection of his presidency when he died in 2018.

Allegations of presidential dishonesty, nevertheless, significantly exercised media fact-checkers throughout the tenure of Mr Trump.

The Washington Post maintains a database of Trump statements – over 30,000 of them – that it claims are false or deceptive.

Some of the remarks flagged by the newspaper – equivalent to that the American economic system was the most effective ever beneath his presidency, or that he handed the largest tax lower in US historical past, or concerning the dimension of the commerce deficit with China – Trump is recorded as having made a whole bunch of instances.

Many of those utterances, equivalent to about golf or his wealth or whether or not it snowed at considered one of his rallies, sound comparatively trifling.

Others, equivalent to claims he intentionally misled the American individuals concerning the severity of coronavirus, or his unfounded assertions that the 2020 White House election was rigged, can be far more damaging.

Benjamin Ginsberg, writer of The American Lie: Government by the People and Other Political Fables, says that in the case of presidential falsehoods, some are far more consequential than others.

He cites misleading statements by Bush’s son, President George W Bush, as he bought a sequel conflict on Iraq to the US public.

These included downplaying intelligence doubts that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, and implying he would possibly also have a nuclear weapon, and asserting he was an ally of al-Qaeda.

Prof Ginsberg says “whoppers” that result in navy motion are probably the most dangerous of all, and that Trump just isn’t as blame-worthy as a few of his predecessors on this respect.

The political science lecturer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore provides: “The problem is the American presidential selection process is fundamentally flawed and produces monsters.

“It requires years of campaigning, and solely probably the most smug, bold and narcissistic people may be prepared to do such a factor.”

Once upon a time Americans placed an almost childlike trust in their commanders-in-chief.

They were venerated as demigods.

When did it change?

Many historians date this rupture to Lyndon Baines Johnson, though he was far from the first president to deceive.

JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, once said of LBJ: “He simply lies frequently about every thing. He lies even when he does not should lie.”

Lyndon B Johnson in the Oval OfficeLyndon B Johnson in the Oval Office

Lyndon B Johnson in the Oval Office

Johnson’s falsehoods on the Vietnam War included using an August 1964 naval attack that never happened in the Gulf of Tonkin to dramatically escalate the conflict.

“We aren’t about to ship American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves,” he told voters two months later in Akron, Ohio.

After being elected, LBJ quietly sent the first US combat forces to the jungles and rice paddies of the war zone, eventually deploying more than half a million troops.

Johnson’s constant dissembling about this foreign policy disaster envenomed American political life and led journalists to coin a euphemistic term about his administration: the credibility gap.

His successor, Richard Nixon, ran for office pledging to bring an “honourable” end to the carnage in Vietnam, before expanding the conflict by secretly carpet-bombing neutral Cambodia.

Yet it was another cover-up – the Watergate scandal, a botched burglary by his henchmen to wiretap their political opponents – that destroyed Nixon’s presidency.

Richard Nixon gives the thumbs up after his resignation as 37th President of the United StatesRichard Nixon gives the thumbs up after his resignation as 37th President of the United States

Richard Nixon gives the thumbs up after his resignation as 37th President of the United States

American children were once taught to tell the truth with the aid of a morality tale on presidential honesty that was itself untrue.

“I am unable to inform a lie, Pa,” is the well-known line from the story about the young George Washington confessing to his father that he had split his cherry tree with a hatchet.

It was entirely invented by the president’s first biographer.

The father of the nation was in fact not above the odd fib himself.

In 1788, he attempted to rewrite history by claiming he had been the strategic visionary behind the victory over the British at Yorktown seven years earlier during the Revolutionary War.

But it was actually his French allies who masterminded the decisive battle in Virginia.

Washington had been stubbornly arguing instead for an attack on New York City, as Ron Chernow notes in his 2010 biography of the first US commander-in-chief.

Here was the original sin, if you will, of presidential duplicity.

Some lies told by occupants of the White House have been utterly bizarre.

Thomas Jefferson told a European naturalist who had disparaged the New World’s fauna that woolly mammoths roamed the unexplored American West.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan claimed he had filmed the atrocities of the Nazi death camps while serving as a US Army Signal Corps photographer in Europe.

He told this story to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at the White House.

Reagan never left America during World War Two. Few remember this mind-boggling lie.

Many of Trump’s comments in the Washington Post catalogue will no doubt prove equally forgettable.

However, one historian argues that the recent tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, by the sheer volume of his mendacity, has destroyed the very idea of shared truth in American politics.

“We’ve tolerated presidential lies ever for the reason that starting of the republic,” says Professor Eric Alterman, author of Lying In State: Why Presidents Lie – And Why Trump Is Worse.

“But Donald Trump is the Frankenstein’s monster of a political system that has not merely tolerated lies from our leaders, however has come to demand them.”

Prof Alterman says the Capitol rioters, radicalised by conspiracy theories about stolen elections and satanic cabals, underscore the extent to which Trump inspired the “creation of a whole world of unreality”.

A useful civics lesson on how a president who has been caught dissimulating reacts away from the cameras may be found in William Jefferson Clinton.

In January 1998 he indignantly denied to reporters having had any sexual relations with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

But an investigation into whether he had lied under oath heard graphic evidence of their frolics, including that the president used a cigar with her as a sex toy after inviting the 22-year-old into the Oval Office.

Instead of feeling shame for deceiving the nation, Clinton privately expressed relief, according to John F Harris’ biography, The Survivor.

Even as he prepared to go on television in August 1998 and express contrition, the president told a close friend: “The lie saved me.”

Clinton reasoned that the drip-drip of prurient allegations had allowed the American people to gradually come to terms with his antics, ultimately sparing his political neck.

It’s all a rueful reminder of the blessing carved into the mantel of the White House State Dining Room:

“May none however Honest and Wise Men ever rule beneath This Roof.”

Follow @judesheerin on Twitter

When presidents misspeak

  • Mexico “has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil” – James Polk in his 1846 war message to Congress, about an attack he had provoked in what was actually disputed territory

  • “Your boys aren’t going to be despatched into any international wars” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt to voters in 1940, even as he flexed his political muscles to confront Nazi Germany. Arguably a morally defensible presidential lie

  • “The world will be aware that the primary atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a navy base” – Harry Truman in 1945, but the target was actually a city and most of the 140,000 or so people who died were civilians

  • Dwight Eisenhower approved statements claiming an American U-2 spy plane shot down by the Soviets in 1960 was just a weather research aircraft, later acknowledging this was a lie and his “best remorse”

  • “No-one within the White House employees, no-one on this Administration, presently employed, was concerned on this very weird incident” – Richard Nixon in 1972 on Watergate

  • “Just a few months in the past I informed the American individuals I didn’t commerce arms for hostages. My coronary heart and my greatest intentions nonetheless inform me that is true, however the information and the proof inform me it’s not” – Ronald Reagan in 1987 on the Iran-Contra scandal

  • “If you want your healthcare plan, you may preserve your healthcare plan, interval” – Barack Obama in 2013, rated Lie of the Year by PolitiFact

More on US presidents

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