A Lie by Any Other Name
By Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017
This is not a presentation of “alternative facts,” whatever that may mean, as Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s mistress of misdirection, posited over the weekend.
These are lies; good old-fashioned lies, baldfaced and flat-out lies.
Some have suggested that we in the media should focus a bit less on these lies — some of them issued in tweets and some in interviews or news conferences — and focus more on policies, particularly the ineptitude of the gathering cabinet and the raft of executive orders that Trump himself is signing.
But I take the position that this is all worthy of coverage, that there are simply different kinds of news being unearthed about this administration that exist on different strata.
To take it even further, it may be these seemingly smaller infractions that produce the greater injury because the implications are more profound. Trump does not simply have “a running war with the media,” as he so indecorously and disrespectfully spouted off while standing on the hallowed ground before the C.I.A. Memorial Wall. He is in fact having a running war with the truth itself.
Donald Trump is a proven liar. He lies often and effortlessly. He lies about the profound and the trivial. He lies to avoid guilt and invite glory. He lies when his pride is injured and when his pomposity is challenged.
Indeed, one of the greatest threats Trump poses is that he corrupts and corrodes the absoluteness of truth, facts and science.
It is no coincidence that the rise of Trump is concurrent with the rise of “fake news.” It is no coincidence that his rise comes during an age of severely damaged faith in institutions.
And now that he has been elected, Trump wants absolute control over the flow of information, to dictate his own version of facts rather than live with the reality of accepted facts. Trump is in a battle to bend the truth to his benefit.
He hates members of the press because, when properly performing, they are truth seekers rather than ego-strokers. The press may sometimes get things wrong, but it most often gets them right. A truly independent press is not stocked with political acolytes but political adversaries.
This doesn’t sit well with an administration that wants to be perpetually patted on the back and never rapped on the knuckles.
After Trump and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, got called out by the press for lying about Trump’s inauguration crowd size and viewership, Spicer limped back to the mic and whined of Trump’s press coverage: “The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing.”
No, sir, the default is to call a lie a lie; lies are negative because they are the opposite of the truth; and Trump continuously lies. Also, he who is devoid of morality is immune to demoralization. You can’t wring water from a rock.
The bone you have to pick is not with the press but with the “president.”
Trump’s team seems to need to control narratives and to stanch what they view as negative, even if it’s true. This compulsion may in fact be spilling over into the Trump administration’s approach to government agencies, particularly those with a more scientific leaning.
As The Hill reported Tuesday, “The Trump administration is clamping down on public communications by agencies as it seeks to assert control over the federal bureaucracy.”
The site continued:
“New restrictions on social media use and interaction with press and lawmakers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and the Interior have sparked concerns of a President Trump-backed effort to silence dissenting views.”
Although The Hill granted, “it’s not unusual for incoming administrations to seek control over agency communications,” it cited “experts on the federal work force” who said “they have never seen a White House take the type of steps Trump’s administration has to curb public communications.”
And Trump for his part continues to rage about three to five million illegal votes causing him to lose the popular vote in November. This, too, is a lie. A lie. Not the euphemisms you hear on television, like “unsubstantiated,” or “unproven,” or “baseless.” It is a lie, pure and simple.
But Trump won’t let it go. His pride is hurt, his vanity tarnished. The man who prides himself on winning lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes, the biggest popular vote loss by a winning candidate in American history. That stings.
So, even after his lie is reported and rejected, he continues to perpetuate it. This is what makes Trump qualitatively different from our leaders who came before him: He believes that truth is what he says it is, and the only reason it has yet to be accepted is that it has yet to be sufficiently repeated.
Unbowed, Trump published two tweets on Wednesday morning that read together:
“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
This is just like Trump, whose inclination is never to admit a mistake, and instead to redouble his self-righteousness even in the midst of his wrong. This statement weakens our democracy and strengthens voter suppression efforts.
We all have to adjust to this unprecedented assault on the truth and stand ready to vigilantly defend against it, because without truth, what’s left? Our president is a pathological liar. Say it. Write it. Never become inured to it. And dispense with the terms of art to describe it. A lie by any other name portends the same.