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The Republic of Lies

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Chris Cillizza just devoted an entire column to the fact that in April Donald Trump reported shooting a 68 to the USGA for the purposes of maintaining his official handicap:


Sometime last month, President Donald Trump had a heck of a day on the links. According to the US Golf Association, Trump shot a 68 in April 2019. That’s a remarkable score for anyone who isn’t a professional golfer but a truly outstanding achievement for a 72-year-old man who also happens to be the President of the United States. . . .


His current handicap is 1.8, which is very, very good. Trump’s 1.8 handicap put him in the top 4% of all golfers who report handicap information, according, again, to the USGA.


The question everyone will ask — did Trump really shoot a 68 at age 72???? — is one that is impossible to answer since, well, I wasn’t part of his foursome on the day the deed was done.There are two competing fact sets to think about when trying to make an educated guess on that question, though: 1) Trump is, by all accounts, a very good golfer and 2) Trump is a legendary cheater at golf.

I double checked with a knowledgeable friend of mine, to see if my initial impression that what Trump was claiming to have done is flagrantly impossible was correct:

Absolutely impossible. Not only did he report a 68, but claims he did it on a course with a course rating of 75.3 and a slope of 139. That implies that he played a very difficult course from the back tees. It’s totally preposterous. 

Donald Trump is 72 and claims a handicap index of 1.8. 

Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer in the history of the world, is 79 and has a handicap index of 5.5. Trump would have to give Nicklaus two shots a side if they played a match. To maintain a handicap with the USGA you are required to post the score of every round you play. The score is then adjusted to take into account the difficulty of the course. The difficulty is based on two factors: course rating and slope. Course rating is the score a scratch golfer would expect to score, and the slope measures how much more difficult a course would be for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch golfer.

Short version: Trump’s reported score — shooting, at the age of 72, a 68 from the back tees on a difficult, professional-level course — is the kind of extraordinarily flagrant lie that plays a distinctive role within the psychological structure of cults and totalitarian regimes. It’s no more plausible than if he claimed to have dunked a basketball on a regulation rim or to have run a marathon in two and a half hours.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

And it’s symptomatic of our situation that Cillizza doesn’t actually cover the real story, which is that the president of the United States is, for whatever insidious reason, choosing to report flagrant lies about himself to an official source of public information (yes it’s only golf, but that’s irrelevant to the larger point), but rather does his, and the media in general’s, usual “here’s an controversial claim, is it really true?” routine, which is in its own way actually worse than simply accepting the flagrant lie as true on its face, a la North Korea.

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