Why does Trump lie?
The New York Times, June 12, 2020
The lies and obfuscations pile up. No, it wasnt tear gas used to clear Lafayette Park for President Trumps Bible-waving photo-op last Monday night, Attorney General William Barr said on CBSs Face the Nation on Sunday. Rather it was pepper balls, he said. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. Its not chemical. Wrong, according to The Washington Post; pepper balls are very much a chemical irritant. The paper awarded the nations top law enforcement officer four Pinocchios for his claim.
The president himself keeps at it, too. On the morning of June 4, he tweeted: [Robert] Mueller should have never been appointed, although he did prove that I must be the most honest man in America!
As of May 29, the most honest man in America had uttered 19,127 false or misleading claims in his 1,226 days in office, according to Glenn Kessler of The Post, who has been tracking them since Day 1. Thats 15.6 falsehoods a day, or roughly one per waking hour, every hour, every day. That puts him on track to hit 20,000 lies by Wednesday, July 29; by Nov. 3, at this pace, hell be north of 22,000 but of course that period will constitute the heat of the campaign, when the frequency seems likely to increase.
All right, some still say; Yes, Mr. Trump is worse than normal, but they all lie. Whats the big deal, really?
Heres the big deal. Mr. Trumps lies are different. Not just in quantity, but also in quality. He lies for a different purpose than every other president yes, even, I would argue, Richard Nixon, the biggest presidential prevaricator until Mr. Trump came along.
What is that difference? In a nutshell, it is this: Our democracy has, to use a word that former Vice President Joe Biden employed in his powerful June 2 speech in Philadelphia, certain guardrails that, as Mr. Biden put it, have helped make possible this nations path to a more perfect union, a union that constantly requires reform and rededication. Every president before Mr. Trump has been mindful of those guardrails. When they lied, they lied out of respect for those guardrails. Mr. Trump lies to crush those guardrails into scrap metal.
Lets take the George W. Bush administration and the run-up to the Iraq war. I know that we still debate whether administration figures lied or were the victims of faulty intelligence. To me, the evidence is overwhelming that they knowingly lied about the immediacy of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Indeed, part of the reason the intel was faulty was they created a special intelli-gence unit within the Pentagon to tell them what they wanted to hear.
So, lets say they lied. The lies were bad; Im not saying they werent. And they had calamitous consequences. But they were crafted in a way that heeded the existence of the guardrails. The very example I cited above the creation of what they called the Office of Special Plans is proof of this. They knew they couldnt just go before the American public and say any old thing, grounded in nothing. They knew they had to make the case for war within a certain process that existed, that honored precedent and that seemed evidence-based and democratic.
The Bush team on Iraq, Lyndon Johnson on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, even Mr. Nixon on Watergate in all those cases, lies were told. But Presidents Bush, Johnson and Nixon also knew and implicitly accepted that lying to the American people had limits, limits that were enforced by the truth-finding institutions and principles that are essential to a democracy the free press, free speech, constitutional checks and balances, legitimate independent investigations. On this last point, the contrast between Mr. Nixon, who agreed to send administration officials to testify before the Senate Watergate committee, and Mr. Trump, who is fighting any such cooperation all the way up to the Supreme Court, is stark.
Whatever else they did, these earlier presidents understood these limits and respected the institutions enough to try to sneak around them. Additionally, they understood the value of these institutions to hold the opposition in check when the other side is in power. And all previous presidents at some level took these institutions as givens in a functioning democracy, which they all believed should endure.
Not so the incumbent. It often befuddles observers that Mr. Trump has no urge to hide his lies. Of course he doesnt. Because he doesnt care if hes caught, because he has no regard for the democratic limits named above. His only real purposes are holding on to power by any means necessary and relentlessly reinventing himself to keep his reality show on the air for as long as possible.
So, far from respecting the institutions enough to sneak around them or appear to conform with their rules, he is perfectly happy to destroy those institutions that might expose him (the press, Congress, the courts, the inspectors general). He has nothing but contempt for the institutions that check him, so he has no urge to hide anything. And of course maybe the most frightening part of all he has not a moments concern for what endures after hes gone.
So this is what makes his lies worse. They threaten the foundations of the republic in a way that even Mr. Nixons did not. And they will only get worse. If weve learned one thing about the president, its certainly this: It will always get worse. Its mortifying enough to imagine the damage he can do in the next five months, let alone the following four years if hes re-elected.
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2020
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