It has generally been my experience that when people pepper their speech with the phrase “believe me,” they are not to be believed.
The default position among people of honor — the silent agreement between speaker and listener — is one of truth and trust.
But Donald Trump is not a person of honor.
Presidents lie. Politicians lie. People lie. But Trump lies with a ferocious abandon.
For instance, the fact-checking website PolitiFact found that of the statements by Hillary Clinton that it checked, 22 percent were completely “true” and another 28 percent were “mostly true.”
But Trump is another animal. There is no true equivalency between Trump and Clinton, or between Trump and any other politician, for that matter. Only 4 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked were rated as completely “true” and only another 11 percent were even rated as “mostly true.” Seventy percent of Trump’s statements that the site checked were rated as “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire,” the site’s worse rating.
The truth shifts beneath Trump like sand. He has no regard for the firmness of fact. For him, fact is as pliant as that Play-Doh he handed out to flood victims in Louisiana.
Indeed, PoltiFact named Trump’s collective “campaign misstatements” the 2015 Lie of the Year, writing:
“It’s the trope on Trump: He’s authentic, a straight-talker, less scripted than traditional politicians. That’s because Donald Trump doesn’t let facts slow him down. Bending the truth or being unhampered by accuracy is a strategy he has followed for years.”
The site quotes from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” in which he says, “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
In fact, Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter for that book and in July he blasted Trump in an interview in The New Yorker:
“Schwartz says of Trump, ‘He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.’ Since most people are ‘constrained by the truth,’ Trump’s indifference to it ‘gave him a strange advantage.’”
When introducing a series about “the scale and depth of Donald Trump’s lies,” the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, put it this way:
“Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, does not so much struggle with the truth as strangle it altogether. He lies to avoid. He lies to inflame. He lies to promote and to preen. Sometimes he seems to lie just for the hell of it. He traffics in conspiracy theories that he cannot possibly believe and in grotesque promises that he cannot possibly fulfill. When found out, he changes the subject — or lies larger.”
And yet in polls like the CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday, Trump leads Clinton on the issue of being honest and trustworthy by 15 percentage points. (I should point out that some have raised questions about the methodology of that poll.)
I believe that this is in large part because we, an irresponsible media, have built a false equivalency in which the choice between Clinton and Trump seems to have equally bad implications, because we have framed it as a choice between a liar and a lunatic.
But this obscures the fact that the lunatic is also a pathological liar of a kind and quality that we have not seen in recent presidential politics and perhaps ever.
Trump is in a category all his own.
Part of the reason for Clinton’s problems is that she is being held to a traditional level of honesty and integrity, as she should be.
But Trump is being held to a wholly different, more flexible standard. When he takes a different position over years or months or days or even hours, that is not simply an innocent evolution, but a flat-out lie.
He alters his positions on a whim, depending on the audience, but the truth is steadfast. It will not accept convenient alteration.
Perhaps even more troubling is that he is prone to making up his own set of false facts. He wildly exaggerated the number of immigrants in this country illegally and “inner city” crime rates. He said President Obama founded ISIS and that “the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.” He said, “I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering” as the World Trade Center collapsed.
Lies one and all, but that’s just a sampling.
This is not an honest man. This is not a trustworthy man. The fact that people believe he’s honest is a result of a failed media that aims its sincerest critique at Clinton’s deficiencies with the truth, but applies an entertainment standard to Trump that corrects falsehoods but doesn’t castigate him for them.
There is no reasonable explanation or salable excuse for the media’s behavior this presidential cycle. History will look back at this period and it will not be kind to the Fourth Estate. We will all have to one day ask ourselves, “Where was I on Trump and the truth?” Far too many of us will be found wanting.
The New York Times