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Baloney by any other name is still baloney - Kavi Chongkittavorn


It does not take long to find commonalities between US President Donald Trump's lies and Thai politics' platefuls of baloney. The same logic holds true for Mr Trump's war on the "deep state" and the outcry in Thailand over a "third hand" pulling the strings behind political happenings.

It takes a strong stomach to handle what comes out Mr Trump's mouth on an almost daily basis. If one watches (and believes) everything one reads on CNN, then Mr Trump's remarks and tweets are all lies. However change channels to Fox News and it's a different story: Every word Mr Trump utters or types is incontestably true.

As a Thai who has been watching Trump-related news for several hours a day here in Washington, there is only one conclusion I can draw: Americans are becoming more tolerant about lies and liars. They are apparently getting used to lies, as there have been no signs of revolt.

Mr Trump is an elected leader and America is a free society. In other countries, such a leader would face street protests and public outrage. But over here in Washington, it is more a case of reality TV shows extraordinaire. Believe it or not, Mr Trump's popularity is increasing.

His lies are also getting more frequent and more intense. In the past week alone, his Republican colleagues have supported him in droves -- and without question -- over the alleged spying by the FBI during his campaign.

As it turned out, that was not true. And with the mid-term election coming in November, Mr Trump is doing all he can to ensure victory for the Republican Party's candidates. Failure to do so would have serious ramifications for the remainder of his presidency. If the Democrat Party manages to win in both the House and Senate, Mr Trump's days could be numbered due to the very real risk of him being impeached.

In early May, after Mr Trump had served his 466th day in office, The Washington Post's Fact-Checker blog revealed that his presidency has hit a milestone as he has made 3,008 lies or untrue statements. On an average day, the US president says 6.5 things that are not true, it said. It was a big headline.

The other day, CNN compared the frequency of Mr Trump's lies to how often people go to the restroom. CNN's editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, said people usually visit the lavatory six to eight times a day, or once for every time Mr Trump tells a porky. But Mr Trump has not changed his behaviour. In fact, he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.

In Thai politics, people are used to a mixture of white lies, rumours, hearsay and everything in between. If politicians or party spokespeople make such utterances, the audience tends to get it immediately and consign it to the "pure baloney" category. The speakers also know that no one is taking their lies seriously, so they move on and serve another round of baloney to a different audience.

On average, a decent load of baloney in Thailand has a news cycle of about 72 hours.

In America, however, it is the US president himself who is the primary source of lies. When the mainstream media report these, they automatically become purveyors of "fake news". To produce fake news, the sources have to be thorough and consistent in their assimilation of untrue information.

Some American journalists often ask me if Thailand has much "fake news" of its own to contend with. My answer is always the same: No, Thailand does not have much fake news but we do have plenty of "rumours".

America has a long history of fabricated news. One of the most famous examples involves Janet Cooke, a reporter for The Washington Post. She won a Pulitzer with a bogus story of an 8-year-old drug addict and was only caught out after she collected the award. Jayson Blair of The New York Times also found infamy after he made up details in an article about a US female soldier in Iraq in 2003. Stephen Glass is another well-known journalist who fabricated articles for The New Republic for several years before he was finally caught.

In contrast, Thai journalists do not have that kind of skill or capacity to cook up a persuasive story based on untruths. They are more likely to be caught exaggerating whatever it is they are reporting on. But no Thai journalist has been caught fabricating an entire article.

In America, Mr Trump keeps repeating his lies. Such a practice may be acceptable for common folk as it would not be expected to greatly impact the grander scheme of things on either a national or international level. But few people if anyone would expect the sitting US president to tell lies so frequently and stay on in power without any punishment.

Indeed, one particular lie that has become a template in America today is the existence of a deep state. Even before he became president, Mr Trump perpetuated this lie that there exists a third force in US government agencies that has been seeking to discredit and destroy him. This could also refer to the permanent power elite in Washington, according to Evan Osnos of The New Yorker.

In the past few months it has become clear that Mr Trump has been referring to the intelligence community including the CIA, FBI and the National Intelligence Agency.

Thailand has a similar conspiracy theory, but it is depicted differently.

In the Land of Smiles it is known as "a third hand", which has a more encompassing meaning. It has been used to explain any extraordinary activity or happening in Thai political circles for which no culprit or cause can be found.

In effect, Mr Trump's deep state is equivalent to Thailand's third hand.