A tyrant’s path to power is not a straight line, it’s dynamic. Each concession is instantly banked, past vices are turned into virtues, and then the ante is upped once again. The threat rises exponentially with time. If we can’t see this in front of our own eyes, and impeach this man now, even if he will not be convicted, we are flirting with the very stability of our political system. It is not impregnable. Why is Putin the only person who seems to grasp this?
“I like the truth. I’m actually a very honest guy,” President Trump told a slightly incredulous George Stephanopoulos this week. Like almost everything Trump says, it was, of course, a lie. But it was a particularly Trumpish kind of lie. It was so staggeringly, self-evidently untrue, and so confidently, breezily said, it was less a statement of nonfact than an expression of pure power.
For Trump, lying is central to his disturbed psyche, and to his success. The brazenness of it unbalances and stupefies sane and adjusted people, thereby constantly giving him an edge and a little breathing space while we try to absorb it, during which he proceeds to the next lie. And on it goes. It’s like swimming in choppy water. Just when you get to the surface to breathe, another wave crashes into you.
This particular lie was in the context of a report from the New York Times this week, independently confirmed by ABC News, that Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio had found Trump lagging Joe Biden in most of the states he needed to win — even in Texas. The Times reported that Trump had instructed his staff to lie about this polling. When asked about it by Stephanopoulos, Trump simply followed his own advice. “No, my polls show that I’m winning everywhere,” he said blithely. And when you hear him, it sounds as if he is telling the truth. He’s gooood.
In Michael Wolff’s new book, Siege, Steve Bannon recounts on the record several bald-faced lies Trump told him to his face. About Trump’s trip to Moscow, where the alleged and likely chimeric pee tape was supposedly made, Trump insisted repeatedly that he had spent only a day there, and hadn’t stayed overnight, so couldn’t have employed any prostitutes at all. “This story was told to me a dozen times, maybe more, and the details never changed,” Bannon noted, even as evidence emerged that Trump had indeed spent two days and two nights there.
On the affair with Stormy Daniels: “Never happened,” he told Bannon. And when Trump insisted on these things, he was in the moment believable. This preternatural capacity to lie convincingly even when the truth is obvious is a very rare skill. Which is why it works, of course. You simply assume that a grown man with real responsibility wouldn’t behave that way. And you would be wrong. Bannon, Wolff writes, came to understand that the lies were “compulsive, persistent and without even a minimal grounding in reality.” This is not to deceive the public. This is simply the way Trump behaves — in private and public. It’s why I have long believed he is mentally unwell.
It is not true that all presidents lie in this fashion. Take that famous liar, Bill Clinton. Bubba’s lies were infamous — but he was always calibrating them to avoid telling an outright whopper. A ridiculous parsing of the definition of “sexual relations” or “is” is different than outright denying reality and daring people to correct you. Clinton accepted reality and tried, in lawyerly fashion, to spin his way out of it.
In retrospect, the presidency of George W. Bush was a Trump harbinger of sorts. Recall this famous passage from Ron Suskind, reporting on the Bush White House for the Times:
The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about Enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create reality. And while you are studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’
The joke, in the end, of course, was on them. Reality destroyed them, as it often does. In that time period, however, it also destroyed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
No, Trump’s only rival in this department — denying what everyone can see is true — was Sarah Palin, the lipsticked John the Baptist of the Trump cult. During the 2008 campaign, gobsmacked that this lunatic could be in line for the presidency, I began to keep track of everything she said out loud that was provably, empirically untrue. In the two months she was running to be vice-president, I catalogued 34 demonstrably untrue statements, which she refused to correct. She compiled nowhere near Trump’s volume of lies — it’s close to inhuman to lie the way he does — but her capacity to move swiftly on from them, along with the press’s supine failure to keep up, was very Trumpy. The short attention span of digital media has made this worse. And she got away with it. The base didn’t care; the media couldn’t cope.
Trump, too stupid to ape Clinton, and far more accomplished a liar than Palin, combines the sinister Bush-era kind of lie — “We do not torture” — with the Palin compulsion to just make things up all the time to avoid any sense of vulnerability. What Trump adds is a level of salesmanship that is truly a wonder to behold. He is a con man of surpassing brilliance and conviction, and every time he survives the fallout of a con, he gets more confident about the next one.Continue reading Do you have old children? Read this and cry, our beloved land