For a guy whose obsession with “the best” and “the greatest,” President Donald Trump demonstrates a shockingly poor sense of selectivity when it comes to bald-faced lies. It would be easy to dismiss his behavior as compulsive or reactionary, off-the-cuff denials and distractions wrought by an egocentric blowhard, but this latest in a long line of flamboyant humdingers is no spontaneous misrepresentation, no middle-of-the-night twitter ejaculation.
When White House Spokesman Sean Spicer strutted to the podium and proceeded to not only angrily insist on a string of easily debunked untruths, but to lash at the media for fairly and accurately reporting facts, we witnessed a step towards Orwellian newspeak which, frankly, surprised even a cynical old bastard like me for its venom as well as its brazenness. I’d be impressed, if it wasn’t so insulting.
The question of the moment is: why lie about this? Of all things, why, with so many witnesses, and so much documented video, so many images, choose this issue to squander the Trump adopt the angry defense of a blatantly and easily debunked untruth? It is troubling to consider what else they might lie about, when they cling so tenaciously to something so small and petty.
A few pundits have speculated that these responses–doubling down on obvious lies–is part of a calculated strategy to systematically undermine non-partisan journalism in America, so that when Trump and his band of flying monkeys wreak truly horrible and heinous acts upon our nation the seed of skepticism has been thickly sewn, at least among his unquestioning followers. My college-age daughter observed that her twitter feed was aflame with accusations of media duplicity regarding the inaugural crowds, not to mention a throbbing anger at the audacity of the Women’s March on Washington. Her followers, a notoriously non-selective cross section of former classmates, athletic competitors, acquaintances and friends of friends collection that, by definition, amounts to a pretty broad cross-section of America, with a slightly Trumpish tilt (we live in The Thunderdome, after all), but the gullibility and/or headstrong denial in those voices is chilling. By extension, the “undermine the media” motive must be considered.
Perhaps I’m naive? I don’t believe in vast conspiracies. Small secrets on a broad scale are common enough, but the idea that a group as broad, independent, and accomplishment-driven as “the mainstream media” could perpetuate a vast conspiracy against any public figure is just absurd. These people, after all, are driven by the goal of out-truthing each other. It is an industry defined by “scoops” and it would take just a single reporter to blow the entire deal. The greater point of this argument is that Trump is so incapable of introspection that he cannot see how his own behavior is rallying the media against him, and so paranoid that he thinks conspiracy lurks around every corner. And we won’t mention the old maxim my grandmother taught me about pots calling kettles black–Trump sees duplicity because he bathes in the stuff.
Ultimately, I suspect that what is truly at work here is nothing more than externally-enabled full-blown narcissism. It is so important to Trump that he be the biggest and the greatest and best-est and the most-est that he has no reservations about sending his mouthpieces into the glare of the spotlights with simple instructions: lie! He wouldn’t be the first. The Neo-Conservative movement at its heyday was famous for the mantra of eschewing “reality-based politics,” a stratagem that advocates should talk about the world as they want it to be, not as it actually was. In short, tell the lie and deny the truth long enough and eventually the lie becomes the truth.
It is a powerful and effective tool. Minds are malleable, and Trump knows this. What will matter, in the end, is whether or not the frustration of those who are opposed to Trump becomes stronger than the dogged determination of his supporters, enablers, and lackeys to swallow whatever buffalo patties he drops in our way. And what of his credibility, and that of our nation as a whole. Allies and adversaries alike are watching and will judge him accordingly. His behavior–whether today’s senseless and petty lies, or his history of broken contracts, bullying, and strategic manipulation demonstrated as an unscrupulous real estate developer, will color treaties and deals and all comers fully understand that this is a man whose word means nothing.