The President has never lied to the American public on COVID.
–White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany
It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel like he was ever lying to anybody.
— North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer
I’d be careful about using the word “lie.” “Lie” implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.… [W]hen Donald Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it’s right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that. I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, “This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.”
–Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerald Baker on how the media should present Trump’s “falsehoods,” January 3, 2017
Donald John Trump is a murderous liar whose atrocities the American people continue to abide. Finally, after months of silence, mainstream media pundits and editorials are beginning sense the danger he poses to the republic, as they question whether Trump will voluntarily leave the White House if he is voted out of office, a necessary outcome if America is to maintain the illusion that it is still a democracy. In order to set itself on a trajectory toward social justice, the purge – and it must be a purge – cannot stop with his ouster. We need to ask ourselves how our leaders – political, “religious,” and journalistic – could continue to countenance Trump, how white evangelicals could support a man whose moral compass consistently points south to Hades, and how conservative pundits and putative journalists could have repeated his lies and maintained their silence about them while being fully aware that they were not only untrue but obviously intended to deceive, even as hundreds of thousands of Americans died. They must all be held accountable.
One might speculate as to why they tolerate Trump. Aside from their moral bankruptcy, my first guess would be that Trump has something on them. Recall that Trump’s late mentor and fixer was Roy Cohn, a mouthpiece for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, a man who knew a thing or two about leveraging dirt gathered on one’s political enemies. In his book Disloyal, another Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, has written that in 2016 Trump had him suppress “racy” photos of Jerry Falwell Jr to secure the support of the now disgraced evangelical leader. No doubt, Trump has dirt on others that he has mined to extort support for himself and protection against his enemies and a potential post-election prison term. Trump’s personal familiarity with the art of the smear may also explain why our Golden (Shower) Boy kowtows to Putin. It may be less out of a fondness for autocrats than hands on experience of the efficacy of extortion and the human weaknesses that make it a tenable strategy for securing and maintaining power.
Then again, the answer may be less complex. Trump’s enablers may simply be unapologetic miscreants whose idolatry is not motivated by the threat of exposure. Sometimes a scumbag is just a scumbag.
Regardless of what motivates these scoundrels, their lies take a toll, which leads to another, far more disturbing question: Does it really matter? Do we, to borrow Melania Trump’s inquiry, really care? Did we ever? After all, while Trump’s college records, I.Q., and tax returns are a well-kept secret, his mendacity is not. Our current awareness of his proclivity for naked nihilism doesn’t arise from some epiphanous revelation that the emperor has no clothes. When it comes to corruption and maleficence, Trump has always been as transparent as those old anatomical Visible Man model kits, though that which is exposed is not a network of internal organs but a web of calculated deceits and feints. The tawdry spectacle of his indiscretions was out there for all to see well before he became president, and much more has come to light since. Indeed, judging by the current spate in tell-all books about him, with more on the way, Trump could probably use them to build his wall, should he be granted another term.
An agitated Trump insists to a black female journalist that she is misquoting him when she says that he promised a vaccine in by the end of the year, only to add that it may come “before November,” hinting that it might be ready “even before a very special date.” Video of Trump’s initial statement reveals that the journalist did, in fact, accurately quote him.
He recommends ingesting bleach as a cure for COVID-19, only to deny it later, claiming the remark was sarcasm.
He denies that he ever called John McCain “a loser” and boasts about how much he loves his soldiers, or at least those who have not been captured, maimed, missing in action or killed.
The fact that videos of Trump uttering these words exist and will now be endlessly re-aired to highlight his mendacity does not faze him. We already know Trump lies; we know he lies both badly and “bigly,” but never with any consequences.
In short, Trump is a liar – and a bad one at that. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Indeed, does the concept of a “bad liar” – both in its technical and moral senses – mean anything anymore? “A lie told often enough,” the propagandists insist, “becomes the truth,” but it does something far more insidious: it inures us to dishonesty and undermines the very notion that facts and reality matter.
This is not gaslighting; it is pure, poker-faced “A-Guide-to-the-Married-Man” stonewalling. For at day’s end, like the flummoxed wife of that film’s philandering husband, in the face of a cascade of interrogatory evasions designed to obfuscate the reality of what we have seen and heard, we simply give up and, discombobulated, meekly ask Trump what he wants for dinner, or in the case at hand, if he wants another term.
How ironic it is, then, that even during the early days of the Trump administration, the media debated whether it was journalistically responsible to label Trump’s falsehoods “lies,” although eventually, overwhelmed by their frequency, some outlets such as The Washington Post began to count them (as of July 9, 20,055 and rising) and their columnists and fact-checkers finally label them as such. Their initial dictum was just to report what he said without speculating as to his intent and present the reader/viewer with the facts. That in the eyes of Trump and his supporters, the media was the “enemy of the people” and facts in the age of information overload reduced to items on an a la carte menu from which to be chosen depending on convenience and gut feelings had not yet sunk in. Perhaps, like Trump himself, the media felt that calling out his lies would cause the American people to panic, to lose faith in our system of governance. One might have hoped they had learned from their mistakes: After all, when Trump came into office, we were still reeling from the after effects of seven years of war in Iraq started on the basis of another series of lies largely unchallenged by the mainstream media. (Tellingly, those who told the truth – Edwin Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange – have become “enemies of the state.” More recent whistleblowers, like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, have been vilified by the usual suspects.)
Or perhaps, like Bob Woodward, they decided to hold out until they saw the bottom line and the prospect of higher circulation, steeper paywalls, and larger ratings, which itself should be a source of rage.
Technology has not been of much help here. The panopticonic state with its cellphones, television cameras, security cameras, and body cams and other forms of mass surveillance has not provided, as Jeremy Bentham once envisioned, a voyeuristic “mill for grinding rogues honest.” Instead, it has produced new, more elaborate ways to evade, delay and potentially conceal the truth.
Nor it is the problem merely that Trump’s lies; he also has others lie for him. As The New Yorker’s Masha Geesen observed in 2018, “Lying for Trump has become … a familiar practice in American politics.” The endless parade of Trumpist prevaricators includes not only those who worked in his administration – Ronny Jackson, Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly – and his stalwart Republican defenders – Mitch McConnell, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan – but also some members of the Fourth Estate – Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, or at least those hanging out in its infotainment gazebo. Politico reports that Health and Human Services chairman Michael Caputo, and other top officials, altered CDC reports on COVID-19 so that their findings better squared with Trump’s lies, even going so far as to suggest victims of the disease were to blame for contracting it, a telling emendation given that the disease disproportionately afflicts people of color. Like a syphilitic Midas, Typhoid Trump corrupts everything he touches, or, less generously, freely indulges those actively seeking to wallow in their baser own instincts. Nothing, including DHS, ICE, the CDC, the FDA and HHS, escapes his poisonous embrace. To paraphrase Trump, “When you’re president they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Eager to vilify BLM and Antifa, Trump’s enablers hold their tongues when it comes to militia and vigilantes. To say that they maintain their silence, however, is to mischaracterize the depths of their immoral stealth. Asked repeatedly by CNN’s Dana Bash if he condemned the murderous actions of Trump-supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, evaded the question, repeatedly mouthing the words, “It’s a tragedy.” (The tragedy is that he did not have the cojones to answer Bash’s question.) This is the same Johnson who a year earlier in an interview with Bash refused to condemn Trump’s statement demanding four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back to their country” and accusing them of being incapable of “loving our America.” Instead, he quoted Martin Luther King on judging people by the “content of their character not the color of their skin.” How, one wonders, does Johnson judge Trump’s? Given the evidence of Johnson’s own palpable lack of character and judgement, it is best he steer clear of ever quoting King again.
Meanwhile, Deputy Director of DHS Ken Cuccinelli and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (once again American democracy is threatened by a misplaced chad; hopefully the results will not be as disastrous the time around) downplay the threat of white supremacy to national security while overstating the menace of “Antifa,” “socialists,” “anarchists,” “radicals,” “transgender black Marxists,” and other boogeymen without apparently being too worked up about panicking the public. Others manufacture conspiracies, including one that painted 75-year old white peace activist Martin Guigino as an “Antifa provocateur” armed with “Mission Impossible”-grade hi-tech doohickeys and Tom Savini-level makeup effect skills.
Trump screams about anonymous sources, yet he’s not too great about naming his own. As The Washington Post noted in 2016, Trump attributes much of what spews from his mouth to anonymous “people” (“lots” of them, in fact) who have, allegedly, informed him that, among other things, Obama “didn’t want to know about Muslim terrorism,” “[the Iran deal] is worse than stupid,” Ted Cruz was “born in Canada,” Vince Foster was “absolutely murdered,” “they had spies in [his] campaign, and the 2020 election will be “rigged.” These “sources” remain unnamed.
We have seen the clashes of armed, self-styled militias with BLM protesters. And yet there are those who stubbornly insist that fascism cannot happen here and who ignore the vicious irony that these armed militiamen are allowed to roam the streets while unarmed blacks are suffocated and shot dead. In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse walks free after killing two protesters and maiming a third. Meanwhile, in Colorado, a black child is suspended from school and has the police sent to his home for playing with a toy during an online class, though I suppose we should be relieved they did not shoot and kill him seconds after their arrival.
The mendacity of those in power should not surprise us. Those who have pledged to “protect and serve,” whether politicians or police, continue to betray the public trust. For to the champions of “law and order”, the proud boys (and girls) who worship Trump as their ochre Übermensch, their own paunchy Aryan Homelander blessed with, according to Trump’s former physician Ronny Jackson, the “good genes” that prove his triumph of will über alles, lies don’t matter. And so long as they can lie and be lied to with impunity and without complaint, why should they? For in their eyes, Trump’s lies are not lies at all, but the benevolent paternalistic largesse of an infallible patriarch protective of his faithful brood.