Donald Trump knows exactly what he's doing
The Federal Trade Commission, which polices advertising in America, will punish you if you lie in an advertisement for your product. But you're allowed to make claims that fall under the heading of "puffery," which means they're so absurd that no one could take them to be literally true. If the Gap tells you that if you buy one of their T-shirts the hottest girl in school will go to the prom with you, it doesn't count as a false claim, because it's too silly to be believed.
You'd think the same basic rule would apply to politics. There are some claims worth fact-checking — Has the economy created 15 million jobs since the Great Recession? Would repealing ObamaCare throw 20 million people off their health coverage? — and some that aren't. There are lies politicians tell that we let go because they're meaningless ("It's great to be here at the state fair on this 100-degree day!") and some things they say that are so ridiculous, we don't even need to explore them.
So it was when Donald Trump decided a couple of days ago to say, "ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder. He founded ISIS." It's so ludicrous that we don't actually need to assess the accuracy of the claim, right?
Wrong. This is the 2016 presidential campaign, this is the man Republicans have nominated to the presidency, and these are the people to whom he's appealing. So we do.
As an informed person, upon hearing this you probably said, "Oh, well Trump just means that by pulling out of Iraq, Obama helped create a situation which enabled ISIS to evolve out of a pre-existing radical terrorist group. He's not literally saying Obama founded the group, just that his decisions eventually led to their rise." But you'd be wrong, because conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to give Trump that out, and Trump declined to take it. "I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace," Hewitt said when he had Trump on his show Thursday. "No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS. I do," Trump responded. "But he's not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He's trying to kill them," Hewitt replied. "I don't care," said Trump. "He was the founder."
So now journalists have to actually run fact-checks debunking the idea that Barack Obama founded ISIS. Congratulations, America.
To paraphrase Marco Rubio, don't think Donald Trump doesn't know what he's doing — he knows exactly what he's doing. In the same speech, Trump pointedly referred to "Barack Hussein Obama," just in case anyone forgot that the president isn't really one of us. Trump, of course, launched an effort in 2011 to prove once and for all that Obama is a foreigner who was not actually born in the United States, but what you may not realize is that to this day Trump has never admitted that the president is, in fact, an American.
And he's got a lot of company. You might have thought the lunatic conspiracy theory about Obama actually being born abroad and falsifying his birth records would have been relegated by now to a tiny fringe. Alas, it is not. An NBC/Survey Monkey poll taken just this week showed that only 27 percent of Republicans think Obama was born in the United States. Twenty-seven percent.
And why wouldn't they? For eight years their leaders have been telling them that despite all appearances, Obama is literally trying to destroy the United States — not Joe Biden literally, but literally literally. They've heard it from politicians, they've heard it from media figures, they've heard it again and again and again. And no matter how many times they get told it isn't true, they go on believing it.
The fact that Obama was clever enough to fake his birthplace but has failed so spectacularly at his plan to destroy America — oddly, the country is still standing despite his having been president for eight years — does not deter them from this belief. Of course, to any good conspiracy theorist, evidence that the conspiracy doesn't exist is nothing but proof of how diabolical the conspiracy really is. And one thing you should be prepared for in the coming years, should Hillary Clinton be elected, is a glorious flowering of conspiracy theories.
The right has always been willing to believe almost any outlandish claim about the Clintons, like the idea that they had a drug-running operation run out of a small Arkansas airport or the evergreen idea that the Clintons have left a trail of murdered enemies and associates behind them in their relentless march to power. It's never been enough to think they're wrong about policy or even unpleasant people for one reason or another: If you hate them enough, you have to believe that they're capable of anything, even murder.
It's not even over. In July, a young Democratic Party staffer named Seth Rich was killed near his home in Washington in what police describe as a botched robbery attempt. But now WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has apparently gone on a crusade to stop Hillary Clinton from being elected, has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Rich's killer — not because of his concern for Rich's family and friends, but because he obviously thinks the trail will lead to Clinton.
Whether the police solve Rich's murder or not, you can bet you'll be hearing his name for the next four or eight years of Clinton's presidency, joined with Vince Foster and all the other less well-known people Hillary and Bill have supposedly rubbed out. The crowds at Donald Trump's rallies cry "Lock her up!" and "Hang the bitch!" when her name gets mentioned, and people who will shout that are ready to believe just about anything.
There are almost three months left before election day, and guess what: It's going to get worse than it is now. Unless, that is, you think Donald Trump is going to "pivot" and suddenly become the thoughtful, responsible, reasonable candidate we've been waiting for. Who knows what we'll have to fact-check next.