The Liar-In-Chief & The Dangers of Post-Truth Politics
It’s hard to live with a leader you don’t trust. It makes you anxious. Makes you fearful. It’s not really a partisan issue. This president lies as constantly and as brazenly as a used car salesman trying to close at the end of the month.
Through 60 odd days we’ve had so many lies it’s hard to keep track. His inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Voter fraud was rampant in 2016. The Yemen raid was a success. And on and on and on.
This week they laid to rest a big one. Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said they found zero evidence of President Barack Obama surveilling Trump Tower.
This, I thought, must surely put the old man in a corner, boxed in by his own words, untethered from facts. He’d spun a distraction for us that had spiraled out of control like Mickey’s magic broomsticks in Fantasia. It’d bounced back and become a distraction for him. Now, to escape the distraction he would have to apologize or at least admit he was mistaken. He had to, I thought.
I was wrong.
Instead, he let Sean Spicer go out and take the heat and spread Trumpworld's message: Despite having no evidence, the president continues to believe he was surveilled by the previous president.
Trump declined to speak directly to this scandal of his own making. He addressed it only cryptically, when forced by a German reporter, joking, “At least we have something in common,” referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel being tapped. Then he blamed the whole thing on something he’d seen on Fox News.
Wait, he’s joking? In a week when by all imaginable sense of human decency he should have come out and faced the problem he’d created for himself?
Here’s the thing: I don’t even know if I believe that Trump really believes that Obama tapped him. He’s the post-truth president.
Every president is supposed to be a paragon of integrity—the world hangs on his every word. The world needs to be able to trust him to understand which way the world’s greatest power will move. But Trump sows chaos by being the opposite of honest—by design.
It’s part of a much larger game that Trumpworld is playing. Trumpworld—by which I mean the major players in the administration: Bannon, Conway, Spicer, Miller, Preibus, etc.—they seem to be constantly telling lies, challenging accepted reality, gaslighting, giving us alternative facts, and spreading fake news.
Yes, Trumpworld has been effective at strategically using information to distract our attention from Russia or discussion of the Trumpcare bill and the mean-spirited budget both of which seem to come with the subtitle “The Poor Die In Darkness.”
But Trumpworld ultimately craves something much bigger from all this. They want the power that comes from destroying the media’s place in society.
Make no mistake: Their goal is to delegitimize media. If there’s no trust in media then there’s no objective broker of facts and then you’ve successfully destabilized the truth. You’ve created a climate where there are no agreed upon facts and no objective truth.
This week on CNN Kayleigh McEnany said, “If he said it happened, it did.” That’s an absurd suspension of disbelief. But that’s exactly the posture Trumpworld wants—believe Comrade Trump and do not question him no matter what media says.
Trumpworld wants to be your sole source of truth. If he has a monopoly on truth then he owns pricey real estate in your mind and he can get you to believe anything.
Sure, governments are always in the business of manufacturing consent, but this is different: Trump doesn’t want you to go along with an idea or a policy or a philosophy that he believes in. He just wants you to go along with him. Most of those who seek to destabilize the truth to get you to just go along with them are called dictators. Control of what’s considered the truth is critical to the domination of minds.
It’s sad but fitting that this game is working on the right. The once proud conservative movement has been corrupted by a weak relationship to the truth.
There are too many ideas in the modern right that stand on a foundation of falsity. Obama was born in Kenya. Obamacare means death panels. Climate change is a hoax. Immigrants are streaming across the border. Voter fraud is rampant. The government is coming to take your guns. Welfare recipients are regularly dining on lobster, lazily enjoying handouts while you work hard. Bathrooms are dangerous because of trans people.
The modern left has problems but they do not include big ideas based on falsehoods, ideas perpetuated by the base and laughed at by the experts.
The right’s problem stems from conservative media’s tactic of attacking objective mainstream media.
Nearly every night O’Reilly dismisses The New York Times or CNN with the back of his hand, telling the audience in effect, “You know better than to believe anything they say.” The game is about winning audience loyalty—you can’t trust the other guys, you’ve got to get your news from us.
This leads to some on the right having less engagement with sources outside of their respective bubble versus those on the left—Maddow, O’Donnell, Maher, Krugman, Blow, etc.—who more commonly engage with objective sources. In contrast, Limbaugh, Levin, and the Fox prime time crew are out there doggedly disinforming people. And at a time when it seems like so many Americans believe so many fake stories and alternative facts, it’s easy to see how dangerous this game is for the country. It’s tearing us apart.
For Sean Hannity to attack objective media (or perhaps I should say for Hannity to figuratively point a laser-sight gun at them) this is not unlike a product knocking its competitor—Coke saying we taste better than Pepsi. Except Hannity is usually undermining the sense of integrity that journalism requires and thus undermining part of what’s needed to maintain a strong democracy.
So maybe it’s not really like Coke saying we taste better. It’s more akin to Delta saying if you fly American you might die. That might make you loyal to Delta in the short term but in the long run it would kill the airline industry.
This is the game Trump is now playing on the highest political stage. He hasn’t yet accomplished anything legislatively and his Gallup approval rating is hovering around 39 percent, far lower than any president at this point since polling began. What happens when this leader we can’t trust goes lower and lower in the polls? He’s going to need increasingly bigger lies to distract us from the self-inflicted mess he’s in.
Trump may be ignorant of history, but men like Bannon are not. They know that nothing unites a nation around a President like a war. So what happens when the President we can’t trust says something horrible has happened in another country. We may have a limited way of independently verifying what he’s saying. We won’t know if he’s telling the truth when he says we need to go to war now. What then?
We’re still paying for our mistakes in Iraq. What happens when we lose more American lives over a lie?