Alan Zendell, June 5, 2017
We’ve all had to deal with liars in our lives. When it’s our kids, we do everything possible to put a stop to it, because as parents, we know that one of the worst things that can happen to them is getting a reputation for not being believable. We explain to them that lying has consequences. What child has not heard the parable of the boy who cried wolf?
As adults we use honesty and truth as criteria for selecting friends, lovers, life partners. We understand that relationships are built on trust, and the foundation of trust is truth. How often have we heard someone proclaim, “Friends don’t lie to each other?” How many marriages have been broken because of lies?
We’re taught in school that cheating and plagiarizing are grounds for dismissal. What are they but specialized kinds of lying? In law perjury (lying to the court) is a serious crime. Federal law prescribes a punishment for lying that can include imprisonment for up to five years. It seems lies are pretty serious stuff, doesn’t it?
What happens when our president lies? Let’s look at the record. Lyndon Johnson told a real whopper that led to our involvement in Vietnam. His contrition over the events of the next few years resulted in one of the most remarkable mea culpas in American history as he announced that he would not run for re-election on March 31, 1968. Richard Nixon lied about Watergate, and his repeated denials of the truth cost him his presidency. Bill Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky led to the only impeachment of the twentieth century and destroyed his legacy as president. George W. Bush lied about the pretext for invading Iraq, and as it became clear, his job approval rating steadily dropped until it reached 26% during his last year in office.
In today’s world even a president cannot lie with impunity. It always catches up with him. It’s as inevitable as the sun rising.
Donald Trump has not learned that lesson. It’s understandable in a way. He’s lived his entire life valuing money more than truth, and he’s gotten away with it. His instinct for the darker side of human nature has enabled him to manipulate and bully his way through life, virtually without permanent consequences. Given his arrogance and narcissism, is it surprising that he thinks he can run the country the same way?
Ronald Reagan was known as the Teflon President, since none of the scandals in his administration ever stuck to him. That’s probably because people viewed him as honest overall, and he wasn’t above apologizing and taking responsibility for errors. He was actually very good at it. But Trump possesses neither Reagan’s integrity nor his acting skills.
What makes his lies more serious and even helps perpetuates them is that a sizable portion of his base knows that he lies and revels in the fact that he appears to get away with it. It’s part of that populist persona of thumbing his nose at Washington and daring anyone to call him on it. When he said he could shoot someone in mid-town Manhattan and still be elected, 20,000 of his most rabid supporters cheered wildly. After that, why wouldn’t he think the usual rules didn’t apply to him?
No doubt he’ll keep lying until the day his words bring him down. Consider the spectacle of repeatedly seeing and hearing him say climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. We see those videos every time we turn on our TVs. It’s not hearsay, and no one put those words in his mouth. Yet, for the last two days, his spokespeople can’t even respond to the question: “Does the president still believe climate change is a hoax?” This kind of thing has become so much a part of the way he’s viewed in general, people both in our own country and around the world are just shaking their heads.
This cannot go on indefinitely, and it won’t. Despite partisan bickering, our Senators, Representatives, Governors, and Mayors care about the values our country was founded on. They care about our role as international leader, and they care deeply about losing the respect of the rest of the world. Most of all, they know that we can’t just go our own way in a world in which our economy is inextricably tied to the those of every other major nation. When Trump’s antics start affecting jobs, our trade deficit, and our GNP, their embarrassment will evolve into rage, and his days will be numbered.
It’s tragic that our children have to witness this. My grandson asked me what I was doing as I began writing this. I said I was writing about lying, and he asked why. I told him it was because we have a president who lies all the time. He said, “You mean President Trump?”
Sadly, I said, “Yes.”
Four-year-old Nate thought it over, and said, “That’s really bad.”
It certainly is.