Alan Zendell, April 6, 2019
I’ve heard that question from children and adults, and it always makes me cringe. It underscores what I and many others have feared since the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy.
There is not now nor ever has been any controversy over Trump’s relationship with the truth, and it’s time people starting looking at that properly. He has spent his entire life twisting facts, exaggerating his successes, distorting reality, and inventing outright lies. The only thing newsworthy about his lack of integrity as president is his brazenness.
The media fact check, act shocked and outraged, and keep daily, weekly, and monthly tallies of the lies Trump spouts. It’s the latest in trendy games intended to entertain audiences, but other than increasing ratings, it accomplishes nothing.
During the 2016 election campaign his supporters said if he won he’d never behave that way as president. Now, his most prominent Republican supporters tell us it’s not important. It’s just Trump being Trump. But they’re wrong. When the devaluation of truth becomes the policy of the United States, we all lose.
It’s easy to explain to a child that lying is wrong, but that’s both naïve and oversimplified, and there is nothing simple or unsophisticated about the way Trump plays with the truth. It’s a cynical, premeditated tactic that he has used successfully throughout his life. He lies and exaggerates because he can. He knows how to churn the daily news cycle and use it to his advantage, and he understands that lying is simply a calculated risk that pays off more often than not.
To understand this, ask yourself what a lie really is. It’s neither a moral issue nor a mortal sin. It’s a deliberate act of deception intended to accomplish a specific end, committed with the full understanding that there’s a possibility it could backfire, and if it does some price will be paid. I say this in monetary terms because that’s the way Trump thinks.
If he lies to business associates and he’s found guilty in court, the worst that happens is he pays a fine. If he’s caught lying to customers it might cost him revenue, but ultimately, Trump understands how the system works. He knows he will prevail most of the time because the playing fields in business and politics are both rigged in favor of wealth and power.
We need to stop raging over Trump’s lies and realize that his approach to business and politics is simply his way of competing. When a football coach devises a defense designed to deceive the other team’s offense we applaud. When a hockey player dekes a defender and goes around him to score, we cheer. It’s the same in every sport: soccer, basketball, lacrosse – competition is all about skill at deception. Poker, bridge, chess – whatever your game, the more you deceive your opponent the more you win.
So let’s stop railing about how awful Trump is because he lies, and focus on what’s really important. If you think of a lie as a broken promise, consider that treaties, trade agreements, and legislative proposals are just special kinds of promises.
When Trump walks away from an international agreement he tells both our allies and our adversaries that our word cannot be trusted. When he lies about the intent of a major tax reform law or guarantees affordable health care, he breaks a promise to millions of hard-working Americans. When he misrepresents the motives of millions of people fleeing tyranny and oppression and equates them with radicalized terrorists, he offends everyone whose parents and grandparents came here as immigrants.
Does that matter? Damn right it does. Most of his supporters revel in Trump’s behavior. They cheer him at rallies and chant his hate-filled slogans. They love that he lies and cheats and gets away with it, because too many of them wish they could do the same thing, and Trump enables that kind of thinking every time he opens his mouth.
So let’s keep our eyes on the ball. If this keeps up we will find ourselves in a nation that values nothing but success, wealth, and power in which every means is justified by the end it leads to. That’s the definition of a jungle, and it’s up to everyone who believes in morality and decency to make sure it doesn’t happen.
The longer Trump is in power the deeper we sink into the muck. Whatever else motivates us, if we care about the future of our country, defeating him and beginning to heal from the damage he has caused must be our highest priority.