Children are taught at home never to lie. It is supposed to be a sin, though more venial than cardinal. Parents take pride in their ability to raise honest and responsible children. There are songs – most famously “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” There are TV shows and movies that make lies and their consequences the basis of their plots. Lying has been linked to American politics since people first ran for office and promised to make things better. Humorists – like Mark Twain and Will Rogers – mocked lying politicians. And Baltimore Sun columnist H.L. Mencken mocked us for believing them.
In 2016 all that has changed. Now we seem immune, as if it’s just another day, another lie. Donald Trump tells so many lies that there are people and groups whose sole function is to keep track of them before making them public.The Politifact website is one. Toronto Star journalist Daniel Dale is another.
There are several powerful reasons Trump gets away with lying so consistently. He lies with an air of certainty. He points fingers at others like Lyin’ Ted or Crooked Hillary to keep the spotlight off his own lies. He blames the media for any criticism directed his way – even the most recent scandal that he may not have had to pay any federal income tax for 18 years. His surrogates call his tax evasion “genius.” Those who believe in him don’t care about any accusations, unless they come out of his own mouth.
People don’t confront because they are flooded. People don’t confront because they don’t know where to start. People don’t confront because doing so invites retaliation, ridicule, or being put on the defensive. People don’t confront because they don’t want to finger-point the way he does. People don’t confront because they don’t want to make waves or upset the apple cart. And people don’t confront because they feel their protests will fall on deaf ears – the opposite of fearing retaliation. One reason Trump’s people don’t confront lies is actually hard for me to confront. I don’t want to sound superior like Clinton did when she called half of Trump supporters “deplorables.”
In 1933, as a demagogue was taking over Europe, Bertrand Russell visited the US and wrote a short essay he called “The Triumph of Stupidity.” In it he said that stupidity triumphs in part because of the brutal tactics used by people in power, as well as because those in power themselves were stupid. I think he also meant ignorant if we refer to Trump. Because nobody could convince me that Trump is stupid.
Trump is a master manipulator who taps into a basic need to blame someone else for whatever troubles we have. Over time, intelligent people become defenseless and unable to organize against the tyranny of brutal stupidity. Just look at the badgering from Fox News, the constant interrupting of others by Trump surrogates. Examples are better put on video clips than in this blog.
Russell was writing then about Nazi Germany. But the most tragic thing about his essay is its final paragraph:
“In this gloomy state of affairs, the brightest spot is America. In America democracy still appears well established, and the men in power deal with what is amiss by constructive measures, not by pogroms and wholesale imprisonment. After the defeat of the French Revolution, democracy, discredited by the reign of terror, reconquered the world from America. Perhaps America is destined once more to save Europe from the consequences of its excesses.”
There is little more to say, other than it must be courageous outspoken Americans that save our nation from the consequences of our own excesses. And we have 36 days left to do it.