Having witnessed the spectacle of one American president declaring “I am not a crook” and another emphatically stating “I did not have sex with that woman,” there is no naivete on my part on the willingness of our nation’s leader to lie. It is the regularity of lying on the part of President Trump and his comfort in fabrication that sets him apart from any of his predecessors.
I think it’s safe to say that no one is holding an American president to some near saintly level of trustworthiness. After all, we’ve witnessed enough mayhem coming out of presidential administrations that most of us simply don’t want to know what we know concerning the lack of truthfulness of our commander-in-chief. We pretty much play along and indulge in the fantasy of a leader so steeped in moral character that even as a child he would admit to chopping down a cherry tree. The debacles of Nixon and Clinton aside, the institution of the presidency has weathered the storms when the occupants of the Oval Office have fallen from grace due to their own ethical breaches.
And then came Donald Trump.
The president’s penchant for lying is neither an accident or incidental to his true character. This is Donald Trump. He is a man who sees lying as the cost of doing business; a business tool to preserve power and negotiate the deal. For President Trump, lying is simply shorthand; another language to use to communicate his message to a receptive and thirsty audience. It doesn’t matter that much of what he says or tweets is made up. For his supporters, Trump’s ‘truth’ is as valid as the facts that contradict the president. America is swept up in a wave that started as a ripple with the advent of talk radio, conspiracy theory websites, propogandist cable news and social media, and we are now drowning; pulled under by a riptide of lies that are the weapon of choice for an American president.
And yes, there is a racial dimension to this addiction of the president. A Black president could never get away with it. Just remember the experience of President Obama. His message to a joint session of Congress was interrupted by a Republican member of the House, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who shouted “You lie!” from his seat even though no such fabrication had been uttered by the nation’s first Black president. Yet, the legion of white men that Trump has carried to Washington are at ease with spinning lies to suit their needs. White men lie with no apparent fear of being punished, while innocent Black men tell the truth and spend years behind bars, wrongly convicted. It’s a wonder that White House press secretary Sean Spicer hasn’t burst into flames during a White House press conference. His first post-inauguration appearance certainly had me on the edge of my seat expecting spontaneous combustion.
President Trump reminds me of Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar character John Lovitz use to play on Saturday Night Live. The more he spoke, the more inventive the character became with his lying. This is classic Donald Trump. Not satisfied with wrongfully claiming the crowd at his inauguration was larger than the turnout for President Obama’s inauguration, the president had to go one step further and claim his swearing-in attracted the largest crowd ever. What about those telling photographs of the crowd on the national Mall? According to the Trump White House rules of engagement, photographic evidence that runs contrary to its false narrative is “fake news.”
We witnessed this again with President Trump’s charge that President Obama had Trump Towers “tapped” during the campaign. Trump not only displayed a woeful ignorance of the law and procedures on the use of surveillance, he smeared the integrity of the very office he now holds. It didn’t stop there. To prove his lie to be true, the Trump White House had to create a culprit. Enter former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. The former Obama administration official acknowledged that she had taken pro forma and lawful steps to request the identity of Americans who appear in classified intelligence reports. These individuals are not under surveillance but are caught up in the legal surveillance of foreigners. Trump is now charging Rice requested the information for political purposes when there is not a shred of evidence to back up that claim. Still, in typical Donald Trump style, he told the New York Times “It is one of the big stories of or time” in suggesting that Rice had committed a crime.
Screen shot of Politico article on Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch
Now we find out that Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has plagiarized material from a law review article. He was given a white pass from the editors at Politico who tagged an article about Gorsuch’s deception with the headline “Gorsuch’s writings borrow from other authors.” Borrow? When you borrow something, you acknowledge from whom you borrowed. No, he lifted the work of another scholar, used it and did not disclose the source. That’s plagiarism. Despite the effort of the offended author to downplay Gorsuch’s misdeed, the revelation that a candidate for the nation’s highest court, a judge, has represented someone else’s work as his own is a new low for our judicial system.
Gorsuch should withdraw his name for consideration to the high Court. He should, but he won’t. In an administration that has harnessed the power of lying, Gorsuch’s ethical failing fits comfortably within a White House that has no intention of being honest with the American public.
The ramifications of having the Office of the President serve as a warehouse of lies are long-term and casts an ominous cloud over the already questionable character of our national institutions. Whatever ounce of credibility the government of the United States had left in the international community is being shred to pieces by President Trump. Whoever succeeds this president will have to embark upon a tour of forgiveness and hope enlightened Americans and our friends abroad will be in a forgiving mood over the damage this current president has inflicted on truth, and the degree he has undermined the presidency.