Sohn: Danger lurks in Trump's lies

President Donald Trump arrives to present Mandy Manning, a teacher at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., with the National Teacher of the Year award during a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

We've grown numb to the fact that we have a president who feels no compulsion to speak truthfully.

We can rely on him only to be unreliable. And dangerous.

As a country, we erode under President Donald Trump's steady shading of reality: His claim that his picture graced the cover of Time Magazine more than that of any other person; that he had the largest number of electoral votes since Reagan; that his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama's; that he accomplished more than any other president in his first six months in office.

It's easy to call it narcissistic. But it's worse than that.

Trump doesn't stretch truth just occasionally. As of May 1, over the 466 days since he took the oath of office, Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Washington Post's The Fact Checker's database that "analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president."

"That's an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day," the Post writes. Further, the rate of those lies is accelerating, the record shows. "When we first started this project for the president's first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. Slowly, the average number of claims has been creeping up. Indeed, since we last updated this tally two months ago, the president has averaged about 9 claims a day," according to Post writers Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly.

Trump also repeats his lies a lot - like the 72 times he has claimed he passed the biggest tax cut in history (it ranks in eighth place) and the 41 times he's said Democrats don't really care about the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump terminated. (Actually, Democrats have tried at least four times to get a DACA deal with the Trump administration, only to have been rebuffed each time.)

Another favorite Trump lie concerns "the border wall." Thirty-four times, our president has wrongly asserted that we need a wall to stop the flow of drugs across our southern border, even though the Drug Enforcement Administration says a wall would not limit this illegal trade because much of it travels through legal borders or tunnels that the wall cannot affect.

Last year, Politico reminded us that all presidents lie. Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, yet he orchestrated the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building and then tried to cover it up. Ronald Reagan said he wasn't aware of the Iran-Contra deal, but there's evidence he was. Bill Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman. Yeah, right.

"Lying in politics transcends political party and era. It is, in some ways, an inherent part of the profession of politicking. But Donald Trump is in a different category," posits Politico. "The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it."

But forget trying to understand why he lies or how to help him or even how to just make him stop. It's much more important to help ourselves.

Psychology researchers told Politico that our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream. When we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false, statements, our brains quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything - thus that head-exploding feeling we get when Trump repeats lies that have been disproven and creates his own brand of fake news. What's more, his lifetime of lying has taught him that if he tells these lies long enough and loud enough, people besides himself will begin to believe them. Researchers call it "illusory truth."

Then there are lies, darn lies and political lies. Sadly for us, political lies are the hardest ones to shake.

The research of Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan has found that when false information is wrapped up with our political identity, we tend not to accept its correction. In the face of a seeming assault on our political identity, we often double down. That explains why some in the GOP seem simply not to care how often Trump lies.

In her new book, "Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us," Amanda Carpenter, a former senior staffer to senators Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz and now a CNN political commentator, calls Trump's lies his most valuable weapon.

She says that when Trump sets out to take control of a political narrative, he uses five tried-and-true steps: Stake out a territory no one else dares occupy, take over the news cycle; deny responsibility while simultaneously advancing his story; create suspense ("We'll see"); select a detractor to attack; declare victory under any circumstance.

Malcolm Nance, a former spy and now a counter-terrorism analyst for NBC and MSNBC, says the weaponization of lies is how autocracies are born. "The hallmark of a true autocrat is the ability to harness the potency of a lie and use it to alter the citizens' perception of what is truth."

Trump's lies are not just a personality flaw. They are a calculated, clear and present danger to America.