It’s a common moment in a Donald Trump speech. The Republican presidential nominee mentions a nonpartisan institution in passing, then notes that it should not be trusted. Their research is phony. Maybe even a hoax. They are acting politically, maybe at the behest of President Obama.
Since he began his campaign last year, Trump has used that language to sow doubt about the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Reserve, the Commission on Presidential Debates, scientists studying climate change, the news media and election officials.
Individually, these complaints have some precedent, especially in conservative political circles. Many Republican politicians have questioned climate change research, and some supporters of Republican nominee Mitt Romney argued that the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers were cooked somehow in 2012. Then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Federal Reserve was playing politics in 2011, even suggesting they were being “treasonous.” Many in the conservative grassroots have questioned the news media and argued that polls are skewed.
But Trump is unique in tying these critiques together into what amounts to a cohesive world view. It’s a world in which everything is political and institutions are not to be trusted. It’s also a vision that is at odds with the painstaking measures these organizations go through to ensure they are not unduly affected by politics.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics starts with raw data from surveys of tens of thousands of households and hundreds of thousands of businesses overseen by a team of economists who sign confidentiality agreements every morning and lock data in a safe every time they go to the bathroom, as the Washington Post noted in 2012.
Trump is suspicious, however. He’s argued that the unemployment rate is “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics” and “just a phony number to make the politicians look good.” “If we had five percent unemployment,” he asked the crowd at an event once, “do you really think we’d have these gatherings?”
The FBI, which reports to the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, is overseen by Director James Comey, a former appointee of the George W. Bush Administration who has been praised in the past for his independence.
But Trump smelled something fishy after Comey recommended that no criminal charges be brought against Hillary Clinton over her private email server. “The system is rigged,” he tweeted. He argued that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was running against Clinton at the time, “lost the FBI primary.” “It was no accident that charges were not recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigns with her for the first time,” he said.
The Federal Reserve is an independent government agency overseen by a 12-member board of governors appointed by the president to 14-year terms that are staggered to insulate them from political influence.
But its continuing decision to keep interest rates low in order to avoid upsetting the economic recovery drew Trump’s ire, which he directed at Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, an Obama appointee. “This Janet Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level,” he said. “She’s not doing it because the Obama administration and the president doesn’t want her to,” he added later. “I used to hope that the Fed was independent. And the Fed is obviously not independent. It’s obviously not even close to being independent.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates is a nonprofit organization controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties that has hosted debates since 1988. It is currently overseen by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and Mike McCurry, a former spokesman in Bill Clinton’s Administration.
But Trump has argued that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party were “trying to rig the debates” by putting them at the same time as NFL games, even though the debate schedule was set before the football season was announced. “I don’t know why those particular dates,” he said. He also argued ahead of the first debate that moderator Lester Holt, a registered Republican, was a Democrat. “It’s a phony system,” he said. During the second debate, he repeatedly argued that the two moderators were treating him unfairly. “It’s nice. One on three,” he said.
Scientists who study climate change overwhelmingly agree that it is being caused by human activity.
But Trump does not agree. “Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and … a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay? It’s a hoax, a lot of it,” he has said. “Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!” he has tweeted. “Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air – not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense,” he also tweeted.
Trump has also gone after the news media. “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I have ever met, I have to tell you. I see the stories, and I see the way they’re couched,” he has said. “And the people know the stories are false. I’m gonna continue to attack the press. Look, I find the press to be extremely dishonest. I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest, I will say that,” he has also said.
As Election Day approaches, Trump has also turned this rhetoric against the election itself.
“Nov. 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” he said at an Aug. 1 rally in Columbus, Ohio. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe, who knows?”
“The only way we can lose in my opinion—I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on,” he has said. On Monday, he warned that people from “other communities” were going to try to steal the election. “We don’t want this election stolen from us,” he said.
Trump made many of these remarks at times when he was doing relatively well in his campaign. But as he faces increasing criticism from the Republican Establishment, he’s vowed to take the “shackles” off his campaign.
That means it’s likely voters will hear more about rigged systems, phony numbers and hoaxes before Election Day.