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What happens when the President is a pathological liar?



Donald Trump’s addiction to lying is well-known to most Americans, so his recent assertion that “millions of people voted illegally” in the election will come as no surprise. After all, this is the person who said that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The real question is how his most ardent supporters will react to this latest falsehood.

Put yourself in their shoes. Deep down inside, you know the guy is unhinged, perhaps even suffering from some personality disorder. You managed to persuade yourself during the campaign that it didn’t matter. You hated Hillary Clinton so much, and you were so angry at whatever it was you fancied was wrong with America, that even the thought of a mentally ill President did not concern you. In fact, on some level (that of a mischievous child, who puts a banana peel on the sidewalk in the path of a blind man), you took a sick kind of delight in cheering on a bully.

That was then; this is now. Now, we have the President-elect of the United States saying something so blatantly false, so easily disproved, that you really have to come to a reckoning with yourself. “Millions of people voted illegally” is what he tweeted, in one of those (possibly drug-fueled) Twitter storms he has become infamous for. We know that is not true. We know it’s not even close to the truth. Not a single Secretary of State in any of the fifty states, including red ones, has come forward with the slightest suggestion of voter fraud. (American state Secretaries of State are responsible for the oversight of elections.) Every third-party organization that studies elections has insisted there was no fraud. This most recent mendacity by Trump is embarrassing to Republicans, if, in fact, they’re even capable anymore of being embarrassed; the Wall Street Journal yesterday carefully omitted mention of it in their editorial pages, even as they slammed the Clinton campaign for calling for a recount in Wisconsin.

But what could the Wall Street Journal say, anyway? Could they come right out and accuse their man of being a pathological liar, or a paranoid fantasist, or a Goebbelsian propagandist of gigantic dishonesty? They could, in theory, but—like Republican politicians in general—they are afraid of Trump, afraid of being cut off from the White House, of not being invited to intimate briefings by Trump officials, afraid of being at the disfavor of the POTUS. The word from Murdoch on down to his minions is: Sit tight. Play nice. Don’t cross the son-of-a-bitch. We need him more than he needs us. For now.

Still, it must be very difficult for Republicans who still possess a shred of decency to have to sit quietly while their man lies with such insouciance. An intervention is needed in the Republican Party: an adult needs to step up and talk honestly. The truth is never easy to hear when you’re the addict in denial, but that’s exactly the situation in which today’s Republican Party finds itself.

Mitt Romney was a plausible interventionist when he tried to point out to his colleagues that Donald Trump was “a phony, a fraud.” But his party wouldn’t listen to him (which makes his recent public ass-kiss of Trump, in the hope of becoming Secretary of State, all the more disgusting). The Party now is in the very difficult situation of being led by a President-elect who got more than two million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton and is widely reviled and feared and suspected of being a madman. Such adults as remain in the GOP must be shaking their heads at the dysfunction closing in on them. (Wouldn’t it be fun to be a fly on the wall in Ryan’s office?) These Republican leaders are going to have to do something before Trump’s recklessness does real and lasting damage to America. (The 25th amendment to the Constitution actually provides a road map for such action.) Yet, as historians of the rise of Nazi Germany well understand, it can be dangerous to speak truth to a demagogue at the height of his power. One can remind these Republicans that silence is not an option, that it is their patriotic duty to speak up sooner rather than later. One suspects, however, that such warnings are likely to fall futilely upon deaf ears.

  1. Someone has to be the “adult” in the room.

    Wall Street Journal June 25, 2016 headline:

    “George Will to Leave Republican Party Over Donald Trump’s Impending Nomination;
    Conservative commentator frequently has criticized New York businessman as being unprepared for and undeserving of the presidency”


    Conservative commentator and journalist George Will said he is leaving the Republican Party over its impending nomination of Donald Trump as the party’s presidential standard-bearer.

    “This is not my party,” Mr. Will said at a Friday event hosted by the conservative legal organization Federalist Society, according to the website PJMedia.

    Mr. Will told the Washington Post that he changed his voter registration to “unaffiliated” several weeks ago. …

    Mr. Will’s departure from the party is the latest in a string of conservatives and Republicans who say that Mr. Trump is an unsuitable nominee for the party.

    In a Friday op-ed in the Washington Post, Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, wrote about his misgivings regarding Mr. Trump.

    “The GOP, in putting Trump at the top of the ticket, is endorsing a brand of populism rooted in ignorance, prejudice, fear and isolationism,” Mr. Paulson wrote. “This troubles me deeply as a Republican, but it troubles me even more as an American. Enough is enough.” Mr. Paulson added that he is supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.

    Other Republicans, such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have also been sharply critical of Mr. Trump and have been involved in efforts to curtail his presidential run.

    [Also from The Wall Street Journal:

    “Donald Trump Gives Mitt Romney a Second Interview for Diplomatic Post”‎ — posted online 9 hours ago]


    This news report of George Will’s defection from the Republican Party drew 556 comments from Wall Street Journal subscribers.

  2. Another “adult” in the room.

    In a The Wall Street Journal “Op-Ed” piece (September 17, 2016, Page A9) by Robert M. Gates who “served eight presidents over 50 years, most recently as secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he called out Donald Trump for his credibility problems.

    “Sizing Up the Next Commander-in-Chief”

    Concluding paragraph:

    “At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. HE IS UNQUALIFIED AND UNfIT TO BE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.”

    [CAPITALIZATION used for emphasis. ~~ Bob]

  3. “But what could the Wall Street Journal say, anyway? Could they come right out and accuse their man of being a pathological liar …”

    In The Wall Street Journal “Main News” section (September 17, 2016, Page A4), staff reporters Reid J. Epstein and Michael C. Bender called out Trump for his lies.

    “Trump Backs Off A ‘Birther” Claim”


    “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday CONCEDED that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S., standing down from years of FALSE ACCUSATIONS that made the businessman a central figure in the discredited ‘birther’ movement.

    “‘President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,’ Mr. Trump said at an event with the news media.

    “He then FALSELY assigned blame to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for igniting the suggestion, back in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, that Mr. Obama, a Hawaii native, was born overseas. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that Mrs. Clinton or her 2008 campaign launched the birther movement; Mr. Trump didn’t take questions from reporters before leaving a hotel ballroom.”

    [CAPITALIZATION used for emphasis. ~~ Bob]

  4. I think the answer to Steve’s question is that for many of Trump’s supporters, the factual truth of his statements is irrelevant. It’s emotional truth that matters to them. Extreme statements without evidentiary support aren’t “lying,” they’re just ways to signal how strongly you feel about something.

    Almost all Republicans opposed President Obama. So the way to REALLY stand out was to say that he wasn’t even a legitimate president, hence birtherism. Birtherism wasn’t as popular as it was because millions of Americans carefully investigated the issue and came to the conclusion that Obama wasn’t an American. It was popular because it was a sign that you really, really hated Obama.

    Trump supporters weren’t chanting “lock her up” because they had carefully read Comey’s statement and testimony and were experts on classification laws, the precedent regarding intent, and prosecutorial discretion. Most of them couldn’t even tell you what Hillary is supposed to have done wrong — she sent some emails? Deleted some? Who cares? They just really, really hated Hillary. Which is why most of them won’t be that bothered when she isn’t prosecuted. She doesn’t matter now, and Trump will give them some new enemy to hate.

  5. Jim B, thanks for a most interesting comment. You are right, of course, to point out that trump’s supporters–most of them, anyway–don’t think with their intellects, but rather react with their emotions. This is the “lizard brain” I have referred to. How is one to have a rational conversation with people who think like reptiles? One cannot. One must defeat them. We can only hope that trump’s presidency will be brief, will be a failure, and that when his supporters realize what a con man he is, they will turn against him and the republican party.

  6. Worth repeating . . .

    We all “think” that the federal government — not least the State Department — has state-of-the-art (even bleeding edge) telecommunications devices and computer systems.

    The less than sanguine reality, as reported by investigative journalist Garrett Graff:

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a technophobic Obama administration member who didn’t know how to use the conventional tools of the modern-day workplace office.

    Her clinging to antiquated hardware and software within her “comfort zone” got her into trouble.

    Graff was interviewed for radio program “This American Life from WBEZ” hosted by Ira Glass a few weeks ago.

    The 19 minute podcast is available for listening:

    https [colon] //www [dot] thisamericanlife [dot] org/radio-archives/episode/601/master-of-her-domain-name

    ACT ONE:

    “Server Be Served.”

    Sean Cole talks to reporter Garrett Graff, who read the 247 pages of interview summaries of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Graff concludes that it’s not the scandal most people thought it was. Not a sophisticated, Machiavellian scheme to evade federal rules and record laws. The interviews “depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides. Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up.” (19 minutes)

  7. Remember when conservatives used to mock liberal academics for (supposedly) believing that all truth was subjective?

    Now we have a Trump surrogate declaring that facts don’t really exist anymore:

    “On one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go ‘No it’s true,’” Hughes said. “And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’— they’re not really facts.”

    “Everybody has a way—It’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts,” she added.

  8. Jim B, I hope you will fight with all your strength against this Orwellian interpretation of recent U.S. history. This Hughes person is clearly an unintelligent, amoral career opportunist, willing to say anything in order to curry favor with her lord and master, trump. You know and I know that facts do matter. Adam and Eve did not play with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, and anyone who believes they did is insane. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million votes cast by legitimate voters, not “illegals” as trump lied. America is in uncharted waters with maniacs like this Hughes person running around the country trying to mislead people. It’s all very discouraging, but we must keep our eye in the ball: the tea party must not be allowed to impose their awful, religious stupidity on America!

  9. Brushing up on the subject near hurts . . .

    “Criteria of truth – Wikipedia”

  10. Bob Henry says:



    The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (January 5, 2017, Page A15):

    “Trump, ‘Lies’ and Honest Journalism;
    Why editors should be careful about making selective moral judgments about false statements.”

    By Gerard Baker
    The Wall Street Journal

    “When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself: ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ ” As a statement of fierce journalistic independence, this advice from Louis Heren, a veteran correspondent of the Times of London, reflects an admirable if slightly jaundiced view of the reporter’s job. As an operating principle of objective, civil and fair-minded journalism it leaves a little to be desired.

    But after a remarkable presidential election campaign, and as we stand on the cusp of the Donald Trump presidency, it captures the posture of many journalists toward the president-elect. Mr. Trump certainly has a penchant for saying things whose truthfulness is, shall we say for now, challengeable. Much of the traditional media have spent the past year grappling with how to treat Mr. Trump’s utterances. It’s an important question and one that has received a fresh burst of energy in recent days, partly, well, because of me.

    In a New Year’s Day broadcast on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” moderator Chuck Todd asked whether I, as the editor in chief of the Journal, would be comfortable characterizing in our journalism something Mr. Trump says as a “lie.”

    Here’s what I said: “I’d be careful about using the word ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.”

    Immediately, my remarks were followed by another fit of Trump-induced pearl-clutching among the journalistic elite. Dan Rather, a former television newsman of some renown, weighed in to call the remarks “deeply disturbing.” I will confess to feeling a little burst of pride at being instructed in reporting ethics by Mr. Rather. It feels a little like being lectured on the virtues of abstinence by Keith Richards.
    But these are serious allegations. I — and The Wall Street Journal — stand accused of imperiling the republic by adopting a craven deference to presidential mendacity. So let me elucidate. A couple of points ought to be obvious but might be worth pointing out at the start.

    Note that I said I’d be “careful” in using the word “lie.” I didn’t ban the word from the Journal’s lexicon. Evidently, this carefulness is widely shared in the newsrooms of America. While some of the fresher news organizations have routinely called out Mr. Trump as a liar in their reporting, as far as I can tell, traditional newsrooms—print, digital, television—have used the term sparingly. Given the number of times Mr. Trump seems to have uttered falsehoods, that looks like prima facie evidence of a widespread reluctance to label him a liar.

    Why the reluctance? For my part, it’s not because I don’t believe that Mr. Trump has said things that are untrue. Nor is it because I believe that when he says things that are untrue we should refrain from pointing it out. This is exactly what the Journal has done.

    Mr. Trump has a record of saying things that are, as far as the available evidence tells us, untruthful: thousands of Muslims celebrating 9/11 on the rooftops of New Jersey, millions of votes cast illegally in the presidential election, President Obama’s supposed foreign birth. We can also point out that the circumstances are such that it’s reasonable to infer that Mr. Trump should know that these statements are untrue.

    The issue is not whether we reporters should test what he, or anyone, says against the known and established facts and offer a fair assessment of its veracity. We do that all the time. We have a duty to our readers to ascertain whether the people we report on are telling the truth. The question is how we present our reporting.

    I believe the right approach is to present our readers with the facts. This does not mean presenting a false equivalence between one person’s inaccurate statement and the observable truth, as though they were of equal epistemic value, but a weighing of a claim against the known facts. When Mr. Trump claimed that millions of votes were cast illegally, we noted, high up in our report, that there was no evidence for such a claim. No fair-minded or intelligent reader was left in any doubt whether this was a truthful statement.

    But I’m not sure the story would have been improved by our telling the reader in categorical terms that Mr. Trump had told a “lie.” In fact I’m confident that the story — and our reputation for trustworthy and factual news reporting — would have been damaged. The word “lie” conveys a moral as well as factual judgment. To accuse someone of lying is to impute a willful, deliberate attempt to deceive. It says he knowingly used a misrepresentation of the facts to mislead for his own purposes.

    Now, I may believe that many of the things Mr. Trump has said in the past year are whoppers of the first order. But there’s a difference between believing that, with reason — my induction from knowledge of the facts — and reporting it as a fact. The latter demands a very high standard of reporting. If we are to use the term “lie” in our reporting, then we have to be confident about the subject’s state of knowledge and his moral intent. I can see circumstances where we might. I’m reluctant to use the term, not implacably against it.

    To refrain from labeling leaders’ statements as lies is to support an unrelenting but not omniscient press, one that trusts readers’ judgments rather than presenting judgments to them. If we routinely make these kinds of judgments, readers would start to see our inevitably selective use of a moral censure as partisanship. We must not only be objective. We must be seen to be objective to continue to earn our readers’ trust.

    What matters is that we report the story and that we find the truth. It’s our job also to point out when candidates, presidents, chief executives, public officials or others in the news say things that are untrue. But I’m content for the most part to leave the judgment about motive — and mendacity — to our readers, who are more than capable of making up their own minds about what constitutes a lie.

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