Trump Tower on the Potomac: Trump has turned the White House into a monument to misinformation.
Trump Tower on the Potomac: Trump has turned the White House into a monument to misinformation.
One-by-one, the lies and deceptions add up. With an end-of-April flurry, President Trump accelerated the pace — 61 falsehoods in a single speech! and crossed the 10,000 mark.
But the real mark of the master of mendacity is his ability to turn those around him into equally proficient peddlers of falsehoods.
One by one, Trump officials have shamed themselves with imitations of the master deceiver. After confessing, under oath, to lying about contacts from “countless” FBI agents, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders then lied about lying. Her false claim was a mere “slip of the tongue,” she said.
Other officials recently caught in deception include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and, most notably, Attorney General Bill Barr, who we must add to the litany of deeply dishonest people surrounding the president.
Appearing before a Senate committee, Barr offered a mad hatter’s testimony on his handling of Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s March report on Trump and Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. He judged the president’s evasive testimony to Mueller’s team, which included 30 “I don’t recall” answers, to be proof he “fully cooperated.”
Asked about former FBI Director Jim Comey’s handling of the bureau’s 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton, he said he had had problems with it. In fact, he had published an article titled, “James Comey Did the Right Thing.”
In addition to his wriggling deceptions, Barr simply lied when he told the Senate committee that Mueller never asked Trump to submit to an interview. He lied again when he described the motive behind Trump’s firing of Comey in May 2017. Barr offered a falsehood about the president acting on the advice of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Even Trump has long acknowledged this is not true.
In any ordinary time, the spectacle of Barr’s testimony would have the nation buzzing for weeks. Instead, this is just the most recent illustration of what can be called The Trump Effect.
The Trump Effect is what happens to other people in Donald Trump’s orbit. They become untrustworthy individuals, seemingly by osmosis.
It all begins with by the commander-in-chief’s personality and character, which are unique in the history of the American presidency.Assuming office with a dystopian inaugural address about “American carnage,” he immediately tried to con the world intobelieving the crowd that heard him speak was vastly larger than the photos of the day showed.He shamelessly installed his unqualified daughter and son-in-law in White House jobs, flouted 45 years of precedent by keeping his tax returns secret, and began spouting conspiracy theories about millions of illegally-cast votes being recorded in the 2016 election.
While some (including me) hoped the office would change the man, rendering him more sober, reasonable and honest, this hasn’t happened.
Instead Trump has molded the White House into a kind of Trump Tower on the Potomac,where he attracts those already inclined to bend or break the rules and subjects others to a whirlwind of distortions where maintaining one’s moral balance required superhuman effort.
Callous, paranoid and narcissistic, Trump has long demonstrated he is uninterested in the truth and happy to sling insults and lies. He spent decades to deceiving the press and public with fantastical claims about everything from his personal wealth to the ratings for his reality TV show. He got into the politics game with a long-running and thoroughly specious effort to create doubt about Barack Obama’s birthplace and thus the legitimacy of his presidency.
Now in the Oval Office, Trump does things the way he always has done them, which means he issues lies, brags and demands for loyalty that can overwhelm anyone within earshot.Trump’s mouth produces a continuous gusher of words that corrupt the moral defenses of those he commands and can ruin hard-earned reputations.
Trump’s method depends, at the start, on the vulnerabilities inherent in the human condition. Normal people — by this I mean everyone who isn’t psychopathic or something close — want to get along with others. Teamwork requires compromise and good manners. No one really wants to contradict the boss who lies or the co-worker who deceives in seemingly minor ways.
But every time you fail to speak-up in a moment of deception, you become a little more complicit and a little more likely to go along when something truly egregious is afoot.
The second vulnerability Trump exploits is the basic human need to be seen as good and decent. With few exceptions, people fear that their imperfections, and especially moments of moral failure, will be revealed and cause them shame. We naturally try to deny our selfishness, resentment, envy and other unattractive impulses and try to hide them.
When we give in to them, and fight acknowledging that yes, we are human, a crack forms in our self-concept and a weakness is created. Trump, who seems to almost delight in many of his dark impulses, puts pressure on those weaknesses until those around him reach a decision point.
When he reached his decision point, White House Counsel Don McGahn defied Trump’s demand that he create a false record regarding the Mueller investigation. He left his job when its seemed he would be made the fall guy for the scandal.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lasted longer in his job, but resigned when he could no longer abide Trump’s ignorance and impetuous behavior. (In typical fashion, the president made the false claim that Mattis had been dismissed.) Gary Cohn, economic adviser, gave up too, but it was long after he drafted, then put away, a resignation letter, after Trump said there were “fine people” among neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
With Cohn, Mattis and McGahn demonstrating what happens when people of integrity confront the 10,000-lie man, it’s easy to see the errors of those who give in.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Chief of Staff John Kelly, White House doctor Ronnie Jackson and many others played along with Trump and, before too long, found their reputations in tatters.
Before Trump, recently-departed Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen was a respected public official. Now she’s known for the brutal separation of asylum-seeking immigrants and their kids.
Once an ordinary, even distinguished, public servant, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will now be known in part for the toadying letter he sent to the president as he resigned. In this letter, he offered credulity-straining praise for Trump’s “courtesy and humor” and signed off echoing one of Trump’s 2016 campaign themes, “America first”
Rosenstein’s shame is made all the worse by the fact that in 1990, he began his career in the Justice Department under then Assistant Attorney General Mueller, and then went on, under Trump, to join Barr in spinning the Mueller report to favor the president.
Mueller described 10 instances where Trump obviously sought to obstruct justice, but Rosenstein said, as he departed, that “the rule of law is our most important principle.” He also made special effort to attack the press, Trump’s favorite scapegoat, sounding every bit a Trump man as he called White House critics “mercenary.” He also mocked reporters for asking “silly” questions.
Rosenstein is, of course, entitled to his opinion about the press, which deserves a fair share of criticism, but no one genuinely concerned with the rule of law would read the Mueller report, and observe the president in action as he did, and leave government service with the kind of abjectly fawning letter he sent to Trump.
With this note, Rosenstein abandoned his dignity and aligned himself with a president who is now stonewalling every effort to discover the truth about grave controversies,mocking the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.
Rosenstein, Barr and so many of the others have shown himself to be the type of person Trump turns to when he is most in need of dirty work. In his early life, he depended on the notoriously corrupt Roy Cohn, a snarling piece of work who gained fame as Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hatchet-man and was eventually disbarred.
Later in life it was his house lawyer Michael Cohen, who acted as his “fixer” (Cohen’s word) until he was caught violating the law while paying off women who alleged affairs with the boss. Now headed for federal prison, Cohen was the epitome of the blustery Trump co-conspirator, happily dissembling in the style of the boss until the feds helped him see the light.
As I discovered writing the most recent biography of the president, Trump is a habitual liar who has no concern for the damage he does — to individuals, communities, and now the country — in the pursuit of ego-gratifying goals.
Talk with Trump, as I did for hours on end, and you find yourself in a carnival of dishonest salesmanship. In our chats, he made false claims about everything from vaccines to windmills and even denied making statements posted on his social media accounts.Everything required fact-checking, and most of what he said didn’t hold up. His millions of Facebook and Twitter followers? Many, if not most, are fakes. His stellar academic work at the University of Pennsylvania? No record supports this claim and his classmates dispute it.
Why does Trump lie so compulsively? I think he developed the habit because he found the truth unbearable. Raised in a family where he was pressured to be the best — “You are a killer…You are a king” said his father — Trump knew that flaws and failures were unacceptable. Trumps were supposed to be the best at everything, so when he wasn’t, he lied about it.
The fear that drove young Donald Trump to lie also seemed to make him heedless when it came to the effects of his distortions.
The most shocking thing he told me was that he doesn’t respect most people “because most people are not worthy of respect.” Mutual respect might be nicer, he told me, but it’s not how he approaches people. Unstated, but obvious to me, was the fact that it’s much easier to use and abuse other people when you don’t recognize their basic worth as human beings.
Having reached the pinnacle of power, where he gets more attention than anyone in the world, Trump is still so fearful and insecure that he continually tests his team to see if they are loyal. Remain in his line of sight, and you will be forced to make a choice between your integrity and your position. These results are now on display for all the world. They are ugly indeed.