The Meaning of Mendacity

In Tennessee Williams’ drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy confronts his son with the root of his problems.

“What’s that smell in this room?  Didn’t you notice it?  Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity?  There ain’t nothing more powerful than the odor of mendacity!”

As a writer, I use words with caution.  If an individual states facts widely known to be untrue, I do not immediately conclude that the individual is lying.  A lie requires the intent to deceive.  If an individual makes statements wildly divergent from what one has held to be true in the past for reasons of personal gain, there is only one word in the English language that describes that phenomenon: mendacity.

Mendacity connotes a mixture of dishonesty, hypocrisy and audacity.  Short of psychological pathology mendacity is the ultimate indictment of character.

When Donald Trump fired Director James Comey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – the very same James Comey who more than any individual on earth made Trump president – he had the unmitigated gall to cite Comey’s actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation as the reason.  There is no other word: mendacity.

We were asked to believe that Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee less than a week before his dismissal was just a coincidence.  Mendacity.  We were asked to believe that Comey’s refusal to rule out the possibility that the president was a target of his investigation had no impact on the decision.  Mendacity.  We were asked to believe that the carefully worded but damaging testimony of fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had nothing to do with the president’s descent into fits of insane rage culminating in Comey’s dismissal.  Mendacity.

The spectacle of war criminal Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office the day after Trump fired Comey summons only one word: mendacity.  This is the same man who held Dick Nixon’s hand as Nixon broke down and prayed to God for forgiveness of his sins days before resigning from the office of president.

Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak behind closed doors the very same day raises a host of doubts and the stench of mendacity is overwhelming.

What can we suppose they talked about?  Did Russian intelligence inform the president that the FBI was closing in on him?  Did they advise him that the investigation into Russia’s connection with the Trump campaign had to be stopped at all costs?

The fact that Lavrov met with Vladimir Putin’s former business associate and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raises even more questions.  Are they clearing the air for eventual drilling rights in the Arctic Circle?

The fact that Comey requested more resources for the Russia Gate investigation shortly before his dismissal adds another layer of mendacity.

The stench emanating from the White House surrounding this seminal event is pervasive and sickening.  It grows more powerful with each syllable uttered by anyone even remotely connected to this president.  What brilliant advisor persuaded Trump that this was his best course of action?  What must the president be covering up if this was in fact his best course of action?

Dick Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he was guilty as hell and he’d run out of options.  The smoking gun (the tape) was in his hands and Cox had won the legal battle to take possession of it.

If the president wanted to create the perfect portrait of a guilty man he could hardly have done better than this.  Wait for the FBI director to testify in an open hearing before congress to assure maximum exposure and fire him the next week.  Then host one the few living reminders of the Watergate scandal along with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister to the Oval Office for photo ops (taken by the Russian press).  If someone actually advised the president to orchestrate this sequence of events, he has another person to fire.  If every individual in the president’s circle failed to advise him that this was the worst thing he could do, then he is surrounded by political idiots.

Somewhere in the deep bowels of the West Wing, the dark wizard Steve Bannon is laughing his ass off and the shadow of Dick Nixon hovers over Washington once again.

It is apparent that Trump and his circle assumed that firing the FBI director would be just fine because no one likes Comey – certainly not the Clinton Democrats.  Comey’s testimony in congress made him no friends.  Comey gave what can only be described as an over-rehearsed and tortured performance.  How many hours of word selection went into constructing a statement like: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.”  How many evenings before the mirror were required before Comey could deliver it with a straight face?

Mildly nauseous?  Who talks like that?  It makes the majority of Americans sick to think that one man could overturn the election of a president.  Who the hell does he think he is?  In a democracy every individual from the least to the most powerful has one vote.  In this election James Comey had the only vote that counted.

Comey tried to cast himself as a hero who stood up and stood alone for the integrity of the FBI but every argument he made rang hollow.  In an authoritative voice, nearly quivering with angst, he said he had to choose between the bad and the catastrophic.  What he termed the “catastrophic” was the choice to do nothing – which is exactly what FBI protocol instructed him to do.  Do nothing, say nothing and let the American people decide who their next president should be.  What Comey called “bad” what was what he did: announce a renewal of the investigation into candidate Clinton’s emails ten days before the election.  As we all eventually learned, that renewal was without cause.  Talk about mendacity!

Comey was never a hero; he was and is an antihero.  He claimed to believe that his decision reflected the highest order of integrity because he ignored the advice of those around him and therefore preserved the independence of the FBI.  Not only is that statement without grounding, it is in fact the opposite of true.  Mendacity.

Every child above age seven knows independence requires not taking sides.  Comey decidedly took sides.  His argument completely shatters when you consider his reasoning for not announcing to the public that candidate Donald J. Trump was under investigation for his connections to the Russians.   Under questioning from the unusually animated California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Comey claimed that Clinton’s emails were of “extreme” interest to the public but Russian interference on behalf of Trump did not meet that standard in his eyes.

That is a double standard and one that reflects a distinct bias.  Far from protecting the integrity of the FBI, James Comey betrayed everything the FBI is supposed to uphold – not the least of which is a functioning democracy.

Comey may have temporarily saved his job by putting Trump in the White House but he did not make many friends on either side of the aisle.  Sean Hannity of Fox News belittled his testimony and the president weighed in that Comey was Hillary’s best friend.  Hillary made it clear that she blamed Comey for her loss.

It seemed clear at the time that Comey was on borrowed time.  He was gathering incriminating dossiers on everyone in government in the J. Edgar Hoover tradition and Trump was just waiting for the opportunity to can him.

No one likes a rat.  Outside his personal friends and family and FBI loyalists, no one will shed a tear for Comey.  He got what he deserved.

The problem is:  With Republicans controlling both houses of congress and stifling the investigations into Trump’s Russia Gate, the FBI was running the only investigation that had any hope of uncovering the truth.

So where do we go from here?

The only hope before the midterm election is that a handful of Republicans in either the House or the Senate will become so fed up with the stench of mendacity that they will abandon the partisan ship and join Democrats in calling for an independent investigation.  It doesn’t matter what form it takes or how it is accomplished.  This president cannot escape the cloud of suspicion or the stench of mendacity until he is cleared of collusion with Vladimir Putin.

Is Trump trying to accelerate the process or impede it?  Is he trying to protect those around him who have had connections to the Russians – son-in-law Kushner, Secretary of State Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross – or is trying to protect himself?  Is he covering for Vice President Mike Pence, who was informed long before the firing of Michael Flynn (ostensibly for lying to the VP) that Flynn was compromised?  [1]

We are heading back down the rabbit hole and it again seems possible that this whole Trump team could go down in flames.

The Washington Post reports that multiple sources have confirmed that Trump fired Comey because he was enraged at Comey’s handling of the Russia Gate investigation.  The Rosenstein memo with the ludicrous claim that Comey was fired for his handling of the Clinton emails was a cover.  A fabrication repeated by the vice president and the substitute press secretary, it lasted less than half a day.  Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein reportedly threatened to quit if they held to it. [2]

The man now in charge of the investigation is Acting Director Andrew McCabe.  He last appeared in the news in February when he informed the White House that the New York Timesreport that Trump associates had multiple meetings with Russian agents was bullshit.  It was not bullshit.  It was the opposite of bullshit.

There is only one word: mendacity.


1/ “Cummings Requests Documents Relating to Michael Flynn’s Apparent Conflicts of Interest.”  Press Release, Congressional Record – Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member, November 18, 2016.

2/ “Inside Trump’s anger and impatience – and his sudden decision to fire Comey” by Phillip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa.  Washington Post, May 10, 2017.

Jack Random is the author of Jazzman Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press.)