The sensational New York Times headline “Believe Me: Not All Liars Are Created Equal” caught my eye immediately. Naturally, I assumed the article would rightly dissect and castigate Donald Trump, our nation’s Liar-in-Chief.
It did not. Instead the report objectively covered the findings of several new research studies about dishonesty and cheating. Interesting as this news may be (read for yourself), the content seemed a bit tone-deaf — a missed opportunity to relate this “field guide of lying and cheating patterns” to the current state of national politics and, specifically, to Donald Trump.
The president possesses a unique talent for obfuscating the truth. This is relevant, if for no other reason than to explore how and why his prolific “lie-ability” can impress nearly as many people as it appalls. What should be decried as a serious character flaw and dangerous liability for a leader is playing havoc with our country’s moral compass.
The article does reveal, unsurprisingly, a connection between Trump’s behavior and the researchers’ insights into radical dishonesty, developmental payoffs, moral disengagement, risk versus reward, and transactional settings.
Yet, there is more to the story that goes unsaid. Alongside these psychological explanations rests every dishonest politicians’ defense of choice: plausible deniability. Trump plays this occupational “cover your ass” card with impunity and when called on it, doubles down with the equally abused righteous indignation. Countless family members, former classmates and employees, defendants, whistleblowers and investigative journalists have shared how Trump learned this art of deception as a youth and then honed it as a spouse, businessman, and nowadays as a politician — all the while emboldened by his sycophants and see-no-evil base.
ALL THE RAGE
Consider how Dan Coats, the former director of National Intelligence, observed Trump: “To him a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.” Evidently Trump subscribes to (or was a model for) George Costanza who said, “My whole life is a lie” and infamously advised his friend Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
Kidding aside, President Trump is a rare breed or hybrid of liar — both pathological and not. He is deceitful because he cannot help himself, but he also lies simply because he can. What makes his disorder exceedingly dangerous is the enormous influence he wields over his cult of like-minded, undiscerning and gullible followers.
Although Trump’s moral compass is broken, he is a lost soul with plenty of company. The truth is most of us lie. So says another study that reports people are dishonest on average once or twice per day. The distinction, to be fair, if not absolve, all of us reasonably inconsequential liars, none of us is president of the United States.
Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, based on taped interviews, prove Trump is a compulsive, remorseless liar. If that’s not evidence enough, coming directly from the “horse’s mouth” the Washington Post’s impressive ongoing “Fact Checker” has recorded 25,000 and counting pants-on-fire untruths by President Trump. That’s a staggering, self-immolating rate of two dozen per day.
Trump and his acolytes (who already killed hypocrisy) have so besmirched the lie that its meaning is becoming irrelevant. His legacy will be his unparalleled ability to seamlessly morph from calculated lying to pathological lying. This Costanzian-crossover style of dishonesty should inspire historians and lexicographers to credit Trump with originating “trumpspeak” and “untrumpth” and “trumpocrisy.”
Editorial cartoon by Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star, 9-27-16