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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

POTUS treats his talks to audiences as infomercials, even in war zones

President Donald Trump speaks at a hangar rally

President Donald Trump speaks at a hangar rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

The question persisted for nearly two years as to why President Donald Trump failed to visit U.S. troops that serve in dangerous places overseas. So finally, under the customary layers of personal security and protection, he and wife Melania jetted off to Iraq the day after Christmas.

Speaking at the al-Asad Airbase in the west of the country, Trump repeated a false claim that he deploys before military audiences. "You just got one of the biggest pay raises you've ever received, he said. "You haven't gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one."

This was not a spontaneous error because he has said it frequently enough that it has been fact-checked publicly more than once. After Trump told it to a group of military spouses in May, the Military Times publication reported: "Trump’s comments drew laughter from the crowd, but confusion from military advocates who have pushed for consistent military pay raises each year."

U.S. troops received annual pay raises of at least 1 percent every year for more than three decades. The 2018 raise, approved by Congress amid a massive defense spending hike, totaled 2.4 percent. It was the largest in eight years.

As Trump's falsehoods go, this one can be rated as relatively innocuous. It is easily discovered, and it slanders others only by implication. Soldiers and families who see their pay stubs know what's true. So Trump will get away with it, without correcting himself, perhaps impressing and misleading those who hear it on television and who neither know nor care about its veracity.

Even Trump skeptics in the ranks are unlikely to raise a stink. Unlike the president, soldiers must live in a mindset of collective effort and duty rather than the pursuit of wealth or votes. So the president will share his own version of reality, others will fact-check it, and life will go on much as before.

Outside the military, some 800,000 federal employees are going without pay checks as a partial shutdown prodded by Trump's demand for $5 billion for a border wall continues. Addressing the soldiers, the president blamed Democrats and characteristically made it about himself. 

 “The Democrats don’t want to let us have strong borders,” he said, arguing they only oppose a border wall "because I want it."

For Trump, government appearances have a not-so-subtle way of morphing into political rallies, of which he held a total of 44 in 2018, according to Politico.

Video of Trump in Iraq showed him signing Make America Great Again hats and a patch reading "Trump 2020." Apparently it didn't matter that service members and civilian federal employees are subject to restrictions on their political activities.

Nor, apparently, did security concerns get in the way of a video Trump posted on his Twitter feed that failed to shield the faces of covert operations personnel, Newsweek reported.

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