by Suzanne Nossel, Foreign Policy, October 31, 2018
The relationship between President Donald Trump’s rabble-rousing rants and the recent spate of hate-fueled plots and violent attacks poses a quandary for Americans. Under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, Trump’s hectoring of the media, barbs at racial and religious minorities, and even his praise for an assault on a journalist are all constitutionally protected forms of speech.
Does It Matter That Trump Is a Liar?
World leaders have never really trusted each other—but the president’s behavior undermines American foreign policy anyway.
John Mearsheimer finds that both democratic and authoritarian leaders routinely lie to their own publics. Indeed, they are much more likely to lie to their own people than they are to each other. Populations are far more trusting—a cynic would say “gullible”—and a leader’s pronouncements can be amplified by the apparatus of the state, by tame media lapdogs, and by the awe and respect that many citizens feel for those in high places. In point of fact, leaders of all kinds enjoy impressive rhetorical advantages when it comes to hoodwinking the public, and as Trump is proving daily, some percentage of the population is likely to believe them no matter what they say.
Moreover, for all of his mercurial, insulting, bombastic, and self-indulgent tweeting, it’s not as if Trump hasn’t acted pretty much as we should have expected. He was and is skeptical of NATO, even if he has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment there several times. He was and is opposed to the current trading system, and he has retained his bizarre fixation on trade surpluses as a (the?) critical indicator of economic health. He was and is a xenophobe and possibly a racist who is committed to keeping foreigners out and keeping America as white as possible. He remains utterly indifferent to human rights issues save as a club to brandish at adversaries, and he has long been remarkably comfortable with dictators. And Trump hasn’t wavered in his belief that the Iran nuclear agreement was “the worst deal ever,” even if that belief is unfounded. So, while nobody should believe a word Trump says, it’s not like he became president and suddenly changed his tune….
But does it really matter if Trump lies as easily as you or I draw breath? In particular, does it really undermine his ability to conduct foreign policy? Until recently, I’ve thought (and written) that this simply had to be the case. And so have a number of other well-known scholars, such as Princeton University’s Keren Yarhi-Milo. The obvious fear was that given Trump’s proven track record of deceit, neither allies nor adversaries would believe a word he said. As a result, America’s ability to craft favorable agreements with others—and especially deals that might involve some degree of trust—would be critically impaired.