Almost from the beginning of his campaign for President we’ve known that Donald Trump has, at best, a casual relationship with the truth. Web pages like Politifact and Snopes fact check what we hear to determine the difference between what’s true and what’s false. Politifact sorts stories in several categories, including the lowest one, “Pants on Fire”.
They’ve done heroic work even while being under attack. On September 28, 2016 conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh instructed his listeners to ignore fact checking organizations because they operate under the “guise of fairness.” I guess he sees no need for Mr. Trump to tell the truth.
This recently came into focus. On Monday, July 24th, Mr. Trump spoke to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. By any measure his speech insulted the young men and their families who worked hard and saved money to attend. After promising not to talk about politics he then spoke about his greatness, complained about how he had been mistreated, and gossiped about someone he met decades ago.
When his speech faced justifiable criticism he claimed to have received a phone call from the “head” of the Boy Scouts who told him that his speech was the “greatest speech that was ever made to them.”
Except that call didn’t happen. A few days later his press secretary insisted that he didn’t lie. Instead Sarah Sanders insisted that this was a live conversation and not a phone conversation. And while a phone call can be traced, a conversation cannot. I think most of us believe this conversation never happened and he lied to make himself look better after an offensive speech.
Simply put, President Trump lies, and lies often. This goes back a long way. In 1991 he called People magazine claiming to be “John Miller” to give himself good publicity. After denying he made the call, he later admitted it.
In his ghost written book The Art of the Deal (no way I’m linking to this) he said this:
“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”
That may have made him a success as a real estate developer, but as President it makes him a liar. More than six months into the job I don’t think he understands that he is accountable for what he says. I don’t think he understands lying to boost his brand undercuts his credibility.
I understand that this bravado emboldens his base, but his base was dangerously small on election night and is shrinking. My fear is this: as his base declines he will respond by increasing his inflammatory rhetoric. Much like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny his paranoia will only grow as fewer and fewer people find themselves willing to accept his narrative.
He may call what he does “truthful hyperbole” but the rest of us call it lying.