We concede all politicians lie. Nevertheless, Donald Trump is in a class by himself. As David Frum correctly notes:
Donald Trump’s dishonesty … is qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee. The stack of lies teeters so tall that one obscures another: lies about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, lies about his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan war, lies about his wealth, lies about the size of his crowds, lies about women he’s dated, lies about his donations to charity, lies about self-funding his campaign. “Whatever lie he’s telling, in that minute he believes it,” Senator Ted Cruz said of Trump in May 2016. “But the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”
Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has. Over and over, independent researchers have examined what the Republican nominee says and concluded it was not the truth — but “pants on fire” (PolitiFact) or “four Pinocchios” (Washington Post Fact Checker).
We cannot be surprised that Trump, a world-class carnival barker who knows virtually nothing about policy and has spent much of his life exaggerating his accomplishments (even pretending to be virtually a self-made man), would be one of the most dishonest people to gain the nomination of a major party.
It is not even surprising that talk radio hosts, Fox’s fake news people (Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly), right-wing blogs and anti-immigrant extremists buy into his candidacy. They have been making up a lot of stuff for decades. They are willing to say and believe nearly anything that helps “their” side no matter how dubious. When they’ve spread nonsense about everything from Vince Foster’s death to President Obama’s birthplace to the “flood” of illegal immigrants coming over the border, one can hardly expect them to care about “truth” at this point. The irony is not lost on some of us that the loudest right-wing voices are the worst examples of post-modernist thinking: Facts are fungible; it’s all what you want to believe.
Given his voters tend to be those without a college degree (high school or less), it might not be surprising that his policy misrepresentations and dishonesty about the state of the country escape notice. It is however disturbing that many certainly know he is lying — or out of touch with reality — and still support him.
Part of this is attributable to the false moral equivalence game. Sure, Clinton is no model truth teller, but — come on! — she’s a Little Leaguer up against the 1927 Yankees (Trump) when it comes to lying. Clinton lies mainly when she gets caught; Trump lies about himself, the world, his own statements, other people’s statements, his positions, his change in positions, etc.
Even more disturbing is the moral nihilism: Everyone lies, the argument goes, but at least we have our liar. That’s a recipe for moral chaos but also hopelessly naive. How do Trumpkins know he is on their side — because he told them?! (A case in point: His tax plan was billed as a boon to the middle class and working families; at least according to one tax guru, it raises taxes on approximately 20 percent of these people.) Amid all Trump’s lies do his fans imagine that the man who is loyal to no one will honor campaign promises? Self-delusion is a powerful force and the necessary ingredient for every successful scam.
Much of the blame for a lying-tolerant GOP rests with the people who should know better — the gatekeepers, or former gatekeepers, who used to feel obligated to stay in the vicinity of the truth. That includes certain “respectable” conservative outlets (which for years never had the nerve to denounce talk radio fabricators), once-noteworthy policy advocates (supply-siders defending Trump’s ludicrous economic agenda — protectionism, immigration exclusion, no entitlement reform, mammoth debt) and elected officials.
When Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the most wonkish Republican of them all, says things like “I think that he’s going to learn as he goes”, sincere conservatives become understandably despondent. This exchange on the status of African Americans is embarrassing in Ryan’s utter indifference to objective truth:
DICKERSON: I want to ask you about something Donald Trump said. He said: “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they have ever been in before, ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse. Honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”
Do you see it that way?
RYAN: I don’t see it that way. That’s not how I would describe it, but I’m glad he’s actually going into these communities and trying.
And I think it’s important to show up and listen.
DICKERSON: You’re focusing on listening, but when someone says that you’re going to get shot, you get no education, you get no jobs, is that listening, or is that telling?
RYAN: Well, I think he’s — I think he’s campaigning. And I think there is a difference here. But, like I said, I am pleased that he’s making the effort. Not every person running for president does that. This is something that Republicans need to do more of. More of us need to go in communities where we don’t expect to get a single vote, but we hope to get a perspective so that we can come up with solutions.
Really, he can’t bring himself to say Trump’s minority “outreach” perpetuates false stereotypes and rests on lies? The rule must now be that if you make a pathetic, insincere outreach effort (actually geared to appeal to white voters), Republicans won’t blanch at anything you have to say.
When Paul Ryan cannot bring himself to uphold a minimal standard of honesty, one has to wonder what his credibility will look like after the election. This exchange seems to typify the “whatever the traffic will bear” mentality:
DICKERSON: But isn’t it incumbent upon — isn’t there a standard that a candidate should live up to in terms of whether things add up, whether they’re operating within the rules and truth of the way things are?
RYAN: Truth? Hillary Clinton’s the Democrat nominee.
DICKERSON: Wait. I’m asking about — but you know there is a standard that a candidate has to live up to, right? You’re trying to build a mandate.
So, I think Donald Trump is new. He’s a business guy running for president. So, you’re not going to see a conventional campaign because he is not a conventional politician. He’s not even a politician.
RYAN: And, in many ways, that’s refreshing to people in this country. I think that’s why he’s been so successful. I think it’s why he won the primary in the first place.
So, what do we say and do about this, those of us here in Congress in this majority? We say, this is what we’re going to do. These — this is the direction we’re heading.
Good grief. Ryan and other might want to consider that if you campaign on a pack of lies, the democratic process is destroyed, any “mandate” is phony and the essential trust needed for government to function is eviscerated.
We can laugh when Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway insists it is not a lie when Trump has no idea if something he is saying is true. But this is real life. Trump is an odious character who should not be allowed to reach the Oval Office. As for the demise of the Republican Party, that was only possible once its members, elected officials and commentators decided there was no obligation to speak the truth — or even try.