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President Trump's Big Mistake About Lying

By       Message Manfred Weidhorn       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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It is useful sometimes to look at the beginning of something in order to understand the outcome. President Trump began his political career with a six-year crusade to delegitimize an American President by calling into question his birth certificate. Then, when nominated by his party, Trump saw fit, under pressure from advisors, to ditch the crusade, without giving any explanation. Nor did he apologize to the American people or, most important, to President Obama. Only two inferences from his behavior are possible: if he never believed what he said, he is the biggest scoundrel in American political history; if he actually believed what he said, he is deeply delusional, and his recantation was phony.

No less outrageous was the remark by Trump, a multiple draft dodger, about an authentic military hero, John McCain, that the latter was a "loser" by being a POW. These two early shocking instances were a mere harbinger of the flood of lies to come, even palpable lies about the weather and the size of the crowd on inauguration day , lies that everyone could see through. They came so regularly that people were shocked to find out that, when former FBI head, James Comey, testified that he had indeed told Trump three times that he was not being investigated, Trump had actually, for once, told the truth.

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It is, in the end, a waste of time to try to ascertain whether such rampant mendacity is merely an extreme example of being a successful businessman who operates with what he self-flatteringly considers "truthful hyperbole" or whether he is a conspicuous representative of that species of human beings called mythomaniacs--that is, sick persons who out of fear or trauma or delusion cannot confront the truth.

What is germane, indeed incredible, is that, despite or because of this serious mental defect, he managed to break every barrier on the way to the presidency and that a full bamboozled third of the population still swears by him. The conclusion that Trump naturally draws from his spectacular success is that lying works and that people who make an issue of honesty are "losers." His behavior is similar to the bullies and "tough guys" we all have met in school, at work, or in social life. These are people who have discovered that bluffing, bluster, loudness, repetitiousness actually work, that insisting you are superlative and unique has a way of disarming more modest people who cannot see themselves acting in this boorish manner. Most important, what characterizes such bullies is the notion that the taboo on lying, which seems to many people to come from divine mandates or abstract philosophical inquiry, is a transparent fraud. Belief in God or in social norms therefore is for "sissies." Truth telling is, like paying taxes in the famous words of another New York real estate billionaire, only for "the little people." The Ayn Randian heroic erector of big buildings splashed with his name is an uebernensch who marches to a different drummer and operates with his own moral code. Hence, throughout his long career, Trump has concluded that lying works splendidly and that success is the only metric in the universe.

The grand mistake which President Trump makes, however, is that fidelity to some higher power or principle is not in fact the main basis for the avoidance of lies. It is neither piety nor notions of honor or dignity that shape our concern for honesty. What is in play instead is the voice of bitter experience. Not biblical interpretations, nor pious catechism, nor philosophical disquisition in an academic class in the ivory tower, requires truth-telling. What is in play rather is reality. It, and not God, runs the show--or, for believers, God operates through the medium of reality. And the reality is, as the accumulated wisdom of humanity has observed, that lying catches up with most liars sooner or later.

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Reality is like a dozing giant who reacts to our casual daily lies with a slight flutter of a shut eyelid, as it would to a buzzing fly. But when aroused, reality is a frightening thing to behold. In the words of the poet, it "smites once and smites no more." Reality does not just kick you in the rear but with brass knuckles punches you in every part of the body and leaves the offending person a permanent wreck. Ask the Enron bosses; ask Bernie Madoff; ask Joe McCarthy; ask Hitler. Instead of God or honor originating the taboo on lying, it is the ultimate destructiveness of lying which makes tradition assign the prohibition to a higher power (in paradoxically, a sort of white or noble lie) so that people who cannot foresee the consequences of their actions are coerced by fear into doing the right thing.

In other words, we are told not to lie because in the long run such advice is a matter of practicality, of self preservation, of enlightened selfishness, of hard earned wisdom, of--above all-- not being that dreadful thing, a "loser." This is the lesson that President Trump will, sooner or later, have to learn, painfully.

 

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For 51 years Professor of English at Yeshiva University. Author of 13 books and over a hundred essays.

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