Once again: Donald Trump is a liar.
The Department of Justice confirmed in a Friday court filing what we all knew to be true: that Trump’s slanderous assertion on Twitter in March that President Barack Obama had Trump’s “’wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” just before the election was in fact a total fabrication.
According to the filing, both the FBI and the Justice Department’s National Security Division “confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.”
To some this lying may seem small, just another defect among many, but to me it is so much more. Honesty is the foundation of character. The truth is the common base from which all else is built.
And yet, this man feels completely unbound by it. He has no respect or reverence for it. For him, honesty is an option, one that he feels no compunction to choose.
Before Trump’s bigotry, race-baiting, misogyny, corruption, bullying and vindictiveness, there is the lying. One could even argue that the lying is a core component of all the rest.
Of the statements by Trump that the fact-checking site PolitiFact has checked, just 5 percent were deemed absolutely true. Another 26 percent were just “mostly true” or “half true.” But a whopping 69 percent were found to be “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire,” the site’s worst rating.
Indeed, it seems that every major publication has taken a stab at trying to chronicle and explain Trump’s lying.
The Washington Post calculated that Trump made 492 false or misleading statements in his first 100 days – “That’s an average of 4.9 claims a day” – and that there were only 10 days without a single false claim. There were five days with 20 or more false claims.
But Politico may have been the most insightful. In an article there, Maria Konnikova pointed out in February that all presidents lie – all people lie – “but Donald Trump is in a different category.” She continued:
“The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it.”
Citing the work of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Konnikova gave this glib assessment of how the brain deals with all this lying:
“Our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream, and Trump, we know, lies constantly, about matters as serious as the election results and as trivial as the tiles at Mar-a-Lago.”
She continued: “When we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false, statements, our brains pretty quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything. It’s called cognitive load – our limited cognitive resources are overburdened. It doesn’t matter how implausible the statements are; throw out enough of them, and people will inevitably absorb some. Eventually, without quite realizing it, our brains just give up trying to figure out what is true.”
Trump is quite literally overwhelming our human capacities with his mendacity. It is not only hard to imagine that any person could lie this much – let alone the leader of the free world – it is also impossible for us to keep pace.
There a strong impulse, I believe, in each of us struggling against fatigue, to register the pattern and manage expectations. We begin to build into our processing of politics the caveat: Yes, the “president” lies. That’s not new. That’s just what he does.
But we must resist that impulse. It makes normal, or at least rational, something that is neither normal nor rational.
Trump’s incessant lying is obscene. It is a collapse in morality; it is an ethical assault.
This notion that Trump is damaging the sanctity and purity of truth, that truth in the Trump era operates on a floating scale, that for the Trump apologists truth has become a minor inconvenience, should have us all objecting in earnest.
It seems odd that we have to defend the merits of truth, and yet we do. We must.
This is not simply about a flawed man, this is about the function of our democracy and American positioning in the world. How is one supposed to debate policy with someone who almost never tells the truth? How can a liar negotiate treaties or navigate international disputes? Without truth, everything falls apart, or more precisely, nothing can be established.
I vacillate between rage and sorrow that our country has come to such a pass. And yet, what is done is done. America made a colossal mistake, and it cannot be easily undone.
It is cold comfort that most of the country now believes that Trump isn’t a steady or moral or compassionate leader and half believe he isn’t honest, according to a Fox News Poll released last week.
But that acknowledgment doesn’t change the fact that we must develop a societal strategy for protecting the true in a post-truth world, and the first step is that we must never stop saying: Donald Trump is a liar.