Lying is nothing new. It didn’t start with baby boomers. But as BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes in this Boomer Opinion piece, it has gotten worse, and as we approach our next set of elections, we have a choice: normalize it, or repudiate it.
People probably have told lies for as long as the human race has had a voice box.
Of course that’s not fair to everyone in every walk of life — Mother Teresa might truly never have told a lie — but can you really argue with these generalities: Political leaders lie to their constituents. Manufacturers lie to their customers. Cheating husbands lie to their wives. Used car salesmen lie to their buyers. Fraudulent charities lie to their donors. Cable commentators lie to their listeners. Taxpayers lie to the IRS. Teenagers lie to their parents.
And, truth be told, in the season of Christmas and Santa Claus, parents lie to their little children. Some lies are more harmless than others.
That’s why this column isn’t just about lying. If it were, there wouldn’t be enough space on the page.
So let’s only focus on the most bald-faced liar of our time, the President of the United States. And to do that, we don’t have to rely on liberals, who can be expected to call out the president for his ramshackle relationship with the truth. We need only rely on none less than the man who steadfastly stands behind the president through thick and thin, Vice President Mike Pence.
In the 1990s, when the Democrats had their own dark days dealing with dishonesty because of Bill Clinton’s lies about sex in the Oval Office, Pence called for Clinton “to move out of the White House,” writing in a column only recently unearthed, “Now more than ever, America needs to be able to look to her First Family as role models of all that we have been and can be again.” Which is pretty strange, considering the credible claims of extra-marital affairs against the man who elevated Pence to an office a heartbeat from the presidency, Donald Trump. Which makes Mike Pence himself a lie.
Now you can write off some of Trump’s lies if you choose to as “alternative facts,” as his counselor Kellyanne Conway preposterously put it back at the beginning of his presidency, when Trump claimed he’d had bigger inaugural crowds than President Obama. Pictures proved, he hadn’t.
But chalk it up to opinion. Like another of Trump’s “opinions” back then that Barack Obama hadn’t been born in the United States and therefore wasn’t legally eligible to be president, which has been thoroughly discredited. Or that voter fraud accounted for an extra three to five million votes for Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. He has never been able to back it up — surprise surprise — but again, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Even the one that claims that our nation’s porous southern border is the cause of an apocalypse of everything from opioids to terrorism to rape. Statistics— government stats, in fact— show otherwise. But okay, an opinion is an opinion is an opinion.
Tellingly by the way, America’s sextet of intelligence chiefs never even mentioned the southern border as a peril in the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” they issued at the end of last month. To the contrary, they contradicted the President — or at least, they contradicted his “opinions” — about the levels of danger in everything from Iran to Russia to North Korea to ISIS. But fine. That’s just their opinion. To which Trump says, they are “extremely passive and naive” and “should go back to school.” That’s his opinion.
But what about the Americans who passively put up with Trump’s treacherous tall tales, be they opinions or appraisals or flat-out lies? Not because they believe them, but because they consider it the cost of doing business. The cost of getting decisions out of Trump that they want. As liberal columnist Frank Bruni recently wrote, “The real story of Trump isn’t his amorality and outrageousness. It’s Americans’ receptiveness to that. It’s the fact that, according to polls, most voters in November 2016 deemed him dishonest and indecent, yet plenty of them cast their ballots for him anyway.” Or to quote conservative columnist Bret Stephens, “Among many conservatives I know, the view of Trump is that chaotic management, clownish behavior and ideological apostasies are irritants, not calamities, and prices worth paying for deregulation, tax cuts, and conservative courts.”
But even if you cut these people some slack for rationalizing Trump’s prevarications as just opinions, how can they look at themselves in the mirror when he is caught out on blatant, totally indefensible lies?
Maybe the most recent example is the president’s claim during the government shutdown that when it comes to spending billions on a wall, “This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me. And they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
The trouble for Trump is, there are four living ex-presidents and all four, either directly or through their spokespeople, have said that’s a lie. Not an opinion. A lie.
Or the president’s phony proclamation that his father only staked him to “a very, very small loan” when he was young, in his eyes a modest one million dollars, despite exhaustive investigations which show that trust funds put tens of millions in Trump’s bank account before he even outgrew acne.
Or the he-said-she-said stories about Trump’s extramarital affairs.
All of which his supporters swallow as the cost of doing business.
One of the problems, of course, is that we don’t get the chance to dwell on Trump’s decrepit relationship with the truth. As my former colleague Dan Rather recently pointed out, beginning even before Trump reached the White House, “It got to the point where it was one outrage after another, and we just moved on each time.”
And it continues at a machine-gun’s pace.
We can’t leave this subject without merely mentioning Mitch McConnell, the president’s enabler at the Capitol. During the shutdown, in an effort to sell the Trump’s big beautiful wall, McConnell mendaciously muttered that the Democrats had the chance to put nation above party. I wanted to grab him by the collar and scream, “Oh, the way you did when our last president nominated a respected federal judge to the Supreme Court and you held up the nomination for the better part of a year, alleging that the American people should have a ‘voice’ in the process?” That last president, if anyone needs reminding, was actually elected not just with a majority of the Electoral College but with a majority of the American people. They’d had a voice in the process. Which makes Mitch McConnell yet another lie.
The president’s dishonesty has taken hold. Many condemn it, but many others emulate it. In the next election, we have a choice. Validate lies by electing more liars who couldn’t care less. Or send them packing.
Greg’s book is available here: