When it comes to hoaxes, President Donald Trump has a perfect losing record. The hoaxes he perpetrated have been exposed, while those he said were aimed against him turned out not to be hoaxes at all.
One of Trump's 2016 rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), warned an audience: "We can't be fooled by P.T. Barnum. The time for the clowns and the acrobats and the dancing bears has passed."
Sadly for Cruz, that time he deplored was just arriving — and the Russian bear still dances. Trump uses the word "hoax" as a shield whenever ugly facts emerge about his passive posture toward the former Soviet Union.
First he called the Mueller investigation a hoax, even as it produced criminal convictions, documented Russian pro-Trump hacking and propaganda and established — through Trump's own aides' sworn testimony — clear White House plans to squelch the probe.
Then he called the House Democrats' impeachment hearings a hoax. Trump said this despite overwhelming evidence that he used his clout to lobby Ukraine's president to try to smear ex-Vice President Joe Biden, while stalling U.S. weapons intended for Ukrainian defense against a Russian incursion.
Now, both houses of Congress are simply doing their jobs by asking about U.S. intelligence reports that Russian agents offered the Taliban-linked militants bounties to target American soldiers in Afghanistan. Early Wednesday, Trump predictably tweeted: "The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party … Just another HOAX!"
Crying hoax is like crying wolf. The more false alarms you spread, the less people believe you.
Trump also uses the word to try to ward off other troubles. In late February, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump said Democrats were trying to use the coronavirus to smear him. He called this effort "their new hoax." He also said at the time that the virus — now surging in the Sunbelt — was about to disappear. “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” he said of the early number of cases in the United States
His previous fabricated claims include falsely suggesting that his predecessor Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that Cruz's father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination and that climate change is a Chinese hoax. We have known from the start that the man is a fevered fabulist.
Can the president's promotions of chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment and abuses by his defunct "university" and charities be considered hoaxes? Possibly, but these never achieved the impact of such historic fakes as the Cardiff Giant, the Donation of Constantine or the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. The scam usually ends once it serves its purpose — which is to fool people for a sufficiently useful period of time.
As a tactic, crying up a hoax helps Trump get over in the moment. Charging a massive conspiracy always draws more attention than presenting facts in your defense. Whether it's a sustainable way of doing the biggest government job in the world, however, may be for voters to decide.