Washington, D.C. – I stood behind a bank of television cameras on Thursday at a late afternoon press conference in the National Press Club looking at Bruno Rodriguez, and thinking of Donald Trump.
Rodriguez is the Cuban foreign minister who came to the Edward R. Murrow Room in this citadel of American journalism to deny that his country’s government is responsible for the strange afflictions that have befallen nearly two-dozen U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba.
Trump, the reality TV show host who now occupies the White House, says the Cuban government is responsible for the headaches, dizziness and hearing loss that the embassy employees have reported suffering.
According to the State Department, these Americans are believed to have been singled out by a dog-whistle-type device that emits sounds beyond the range of human hearing. Never mind that acoustics experts have panned the possibility of such a Buck Rogers-type device being responsible for what ails these diplomats, Trump clings to his argument like a barnacle to the side of a ship.
“I do believe Cuba’s responsible,” Trump said days before Rodriguez’s press conference. “I do believe that, and it’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba’s responsible.”
It’s that kind of mushy-mouthed talk that riles Rodriguez.
“Anyone who says it was a deliberate attack (on the Americans by Cuba), is deliberately lying,” Rodriguez, a lawyer who taught international public law before joining Cuba’s diplomatic corps, said in a departure from his prepared remarks. In essence, he was accusing Trump of knowingly lying about Cuba’s complicity in the illnesses that have befallen the American diplomats.
I have no way of knowing if Trump is misleading Americans when he blames Cuba for these maladies. But what I do know, Trump is a serial liar. The list of the prevarications he has been caught telling since he emerged as a contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is breathtakingly long.
Back in July, The New York Times published scores of them. Politifact keeps a running update of the president’s “false statements” that is now eight pages long on its website. Last month, the Washington Post reported that during his first 263 days in office, Trump made 1,318 statements that were false or misleading. That’s an average of five a day.
In one of the most memorable scenes from the 1958 movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a character played by the legendary actor Burl Ives proclaims; “There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity!” He’s right. And it is because the stench of mendacity fills the airs so often when Trump speaks that it is hard to know when he might be telling the truth.
So far, here’s what we do know about the mysterious illnesses. Instead of working with the Cuban government to figure out what has caused them, the Trump administration has decided to politicize these health problems. “It is high time for the United States to speak the truth” about this matter, Rodriguez told the journalists who filled the press club room that is named for the journalist who helped chase Joseph McCarthy from power. McCarthy was a Republican U.S. senator from Wisconsin who terrorized thousands of Americans with misleading and untruthful accusations of communist leanings during the Cold War’s early years.
But the most damning evidence of the lie in Trump’s charge of Cuba’s role in creating the embassy workers’ medical problems just might be what Rodriguez said near the end of his press conference.
“If Havana were really an unsafe place (for Americans), the U.S. authorities would not have requested 212 visas for relatives and friends of diplomats between January and October, nor (which its diplomats have made) more than 250 pleasure trips outside” of Havana.
Murrow once said that to “be credible we must be truthful.”
By this standard – and in the absence of any showing of proof – it is hard to believe anything that Donald Trump says about Cuba’s role in the mysterious illnesses because he has revealed himself in so many other matters to be incapable of telling the truth to the American people.
By DeWayne Wickham