President Trump: Truth Matters
Most of my recent posts focus on the need to be tolerant—especially towards individuals who have opposing political views. In particular, I have challenged my fellow liberal Democrats to try to develop a greater and more compassionate understanding of President Trump and his supporters. I have even written blog pieces about why we should empathize with, and show compassion for, bigoted individuals like President Trump.
But as someone who cares deeply about his country, I feel a pressing need to hit the pause button on preaching empathy and talk about something else. We need to talk about the effortlessness with which Trump lies and the magnitude of his mendacity.
All politicians lie. It’s embedded in the fabric of our nation. Even the oldest folktale about our founding politician—the story about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree— centers around a lie. But, Trump’s lies are different in kind and degree.
Trump’s ill-conceived policies and his repugnant attitudes towards women and minorities are disturbing. But Trump’s persistent lying has the potential to do more long-term damage to our country than a trickle-down tax cut for wealthy corporations or a derogatory statement about a political rival. Our democratic system depends on some modicum of truth.
I am a liberal to the core, but I am no partisan. Bill Clinton, in my view, was a reckless politician. He was the anti-Obama. His sexual relationship with a young White House intern, as well as his famous denial that he “did not have sexual relations” with her, was grossly irresponsible. Because of Clinton’s selfishness, he, along with some highly unsavory Republican partisans, dragged the nation into a constitutional crisis.
But, in the end, Clinton’s lies were fundamentally about sex and survival. He wanted to keep his sex life private and preserve his legacy. Clinton’s lies are the kind that any cheating spouse might try in order to save his marriage. Trump, however, is different. He lies about everything—big, small, important, trivial, whatever.
Trump lies about anything and everything to promote himself. There is no self-interest too small for Trump. That’s the difference between him and Clinton.
All coverups, flip-flops, and political expediencies involve some sort of lying. Nixon in Watergate. Reagan in Iran-Contra. Bush on weapons of mass destruction. Clinton on his sexual relationship. Even Obama, who I believe was one of the more honest modern-day presidents, purposefully lied about healthcare costs. But these were all big issues of the day. Although we can’t condone these lies, we can accept them as part of the imperfect bargain we make for having a democracy with free speech and an adversarial election process.
But Trump’s daily assault on the truth, and his willingness to lie about most things, is an assault on the very idea of citizenship in our democracy. It is an assault on the sanctity of the presidency. In other words, as citizens in a free state with democratic elections, we need to know that our president is usually telling us the truth.
I want to point out three examples of recent lies that I find particularly troubling—not because they are coverups that will lead to a constitutional crisis—but because they are not. Again, I would understand Trump lying about his involvement with Russia. That makes sense to me. Lying is challenging for most people and they only do so when they have a strong motivation, like a political scandal. But for Trump, he will lie about anything. It’s second nature to him because his morality is unmoored. He lacks a moral compass.
Trump has recently made the following three claims:
There are Middle Easterners (a lightly-veiled reference to terrorists) in the caravan of Central Americans approaching the U.S. border.
Republicans will unveil a tax proposal—a 10% tax reduction for the middle class— before the 2018 midterm elections.
Republicans want to protect the rights of individuals with pre-existing conditions to get healthcare and Democrats do not.
Trump’s claims are patently false and I strongly believe he knows them to be so. Here’s the truth:
There is not one scintilla of evidence that Middle Easterners, much less terrorists, are part of this caravan.
Congress is not in session and almost every Republican in a leadership position had no idea what tax plan Trump was even talking about.
Republicans unsuccessfully tried to get rid of Obamacare, including the protections related to pre-existing conditions, and Democrats voted in support of these protections.
One of the more alarming things about Trump is that many of his lies are ridiculously easy to debunk. This is scary for two reasons. First, he puts no effort into tying his claims to reality. They are not spin. They are completely made up. Second, he doesn’t seem to care if he gets caught in a lie. One can only assume that in Trump’s mind—it’s all for the greater good, with the “greater good” being Trump. The ends (Trump’s success) always justify the means.
Unfortunately, Trump’s moral compass always points to Trump.