Donald Trump is at it again. His latest outrageous lie – this time about the 75 year old protestor assaulted by Buffalo police – is making the rounds to universal outrage.
But why does he do it? Why engage in obvious falsehoods and easily-disprovable conspiracies?
During the cold war, the East German secret police, the Stasi, employed a network of as many as 2 million people as informers. There was a file on every citizen, filled with information obtained from other citizens. Any sign of disloyalty, or any questioning of government propaganda was tracked by an army of loyalists and could end in interrogation or arrest.
But after the Berlin Wall fell and the country dissolved, the whole apparatus seemed to vanish overnight. One day, there was a huge cadre of true believers loudly proclaiming their allegiance to the party, the next, they were all gone. It was as if the Stasi had never existed.
Other police states have efficiently suppressed dissent – for decades – without ever having to resort to creating such a vast web of collaborators. Why did the East Germans do it differently?
For the answer, let’s get back to Donald Trump.
This is a man who lies. A lot. The Washington Post has counted nearly 20,000 verifiable falsehoods since he became president, with more being tallied every day.
Many of them are absolute howlers, about things so obviously untrue – that in order to believe them – you would have to ignore a mountain of verified evidence.
This has been a feature of his presidency since its very first day, when he produced one of his most notable lies – about the number of people who were at his sparsely-attended inauguration. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” Trump said. “Both in person and around the globe.”
Was this falsehood a case of Trump just deluding himself? Or was it the start of something even more sinister?
Why lie about things that are so easy to disprove?
The conventional wisdom is that Trump makes up these falsehoods because “people are stupid enough to believe him.” Or that he strategically follows up one lie with another one in such rapid succession, that there’s not enough time for the truth to be revealed before the original lie has already started to stick. There’s another theory that Trump (and the Republican Party in general) use deliberate untruths as a propaganda technique to gaslight their opponents and weaken the very notion of there being any facts at all. In this Orwellian construct, how can anyone proclaim the dear leader a liar when the very notion of truth has been called into question? Everything is a matter of opinion and the leader’s opinion is what really matters.
All of these analyses are at least partially true, and none of them are mutually exclusive of each other. But I believe that there’s another, more pivotal reason that Trump lies so often and so er, bigly. And this purpose, this strategy, requires ever-increasingly bigger lies and huger and huger leaps of faith in order to work – the more outrageous and easily-disprovable the falsehood, the better.
Take for example his frequent, ham-fisted lies about how his White House “inherited” a “broken,” “bad,” and “obsolete” test for Covid-19 from President Obama. The absurdity of this should be self-evident. The ’19’ in Covid-19 comes from the fact that the disease didn’t even emerge until 2019. How could the Obama administration have had the foresight to have created a test for a disease that didn’t exist when he left office in January 2017?
Or what about Trump’s recent lie that “they didn’t use tear gas” in clearing out peaceful protestors in the lead-up to his infamous upside-down Bible photo op at St John’s Church in Washington DC? Video footage of the actual event clearly shows tear gas being used, as do countless witnesses who were there.
Flagrant lies like these aren’t actually really meant to be believed. And they’re certainly not meant to be held up to any real scrutiny. They have another purpose that I don’t hear people talk about:
His lies are loyalty tests.
He uses them to force people to choose sides. When Trump rose to prominence, his first, most frequent opponents came not from the left, but from the right – from stalwarts of the Republican party. As these primary opponents fell away one by one, Trump reconciled with the ones who pivoted to parroting his talking points. Everyone else was a ‘never-Trumper.’
Joining Trump’s circle of supporters is quite straightforward. It’s all about the latest lie. That’s why he spends all morning watching cable news. He wants to see who has paid fealty. You don’t have to believe the lie, you don’t even have to repeat it. You just have to be seen on TV defending it. Sometimes just not contradicting the lie is enough. Support. Deflect. Ignore. Anything, really. The only thing you can’t do is tell the truth. And that’s how you become a collaborator. One of millions.
Have you ever noticed that the average Trump supporter will never concede a single fact that makes him or his administration look bad? Everything has an alternative interpretation. Everything.
Take the recent incident where Buffalo police officers assaulted a 75-year-old protestor, pushing him to the ground, injuring him gravely and then cruelly heartlessly stepping over his unconscious bleeding body.
If you’re in with Trump, this was not a clear-cut case of police brutality. Rather, that old guy was an “activist” who assaulted those officers and got what he deserved! Here’s a screengrab from the most-upvoted comments taken from the Fox News website, soon after the incident:
Who are you going to believe, your lying eyes, or the testimony of loyal comrade 7Wolf7485, who is helpfully identified as a Fox News “Leader”?
With Trump, you have to follow the leader, all the way down. And that’s why the lies have to be big. You have to keep doubling down and building the house of cards. Because if you admit that Donald Trump lied about using campaign funds as hush money to pay off a porn star he had an affair with, you’d have to admit he lied about other things too. Big things. Too big to contemplate.
So you pretend that Trump’s lawyer did that porn-star payoff entirely on his own, using his own money, out of the goodness of his heart, without Trump’s knowledge. Nobody is stupid enough to believe that, but what else are you going to say?
And it’s not just the army of rubes on the Fox News website. It’s everyone who has anything to do with Trump. You either join the corruption of the truth or get left out in the cold. Look at Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who used to call Donald Trump “a con artist” and “an embarrassment” but last week stepped up to defend the church tear-gassing incident, claiming that it was necessary to because “professional agitators” were hell-bent on violence in the area. So what if the footage didn’t show anything like that? It was the party line.
Senator Lindsey Graham used to call Donald Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” but now also regularly gets called upon to give statements in support of the president’s latest antics. The same with Senator Ted Cruz, who Donald Trump once called “a weak little baby.” He also famously called Cruz’s wife ugly. Despite all that, he is now Trump’s staunchest ally and lickspittle. Cruz is shrewd enough to know that if you want to get in Trump’s good graces, you have to pretend everything he says is gospel truth. Yes sir, my wife sure is ugly. Thank you sir, may I have another!
And once you’ve lied, especially if it was about something important – you’re forever part of team Trump. You’re stuck with him. You’re an acccessory to his crimes and lies. All of them. Because Donald J Trump is either…
– an outspoken genius disruptor of the status quo who is draining the swamp and heroically making America great again in the face of huge and unfair opposition from the media, Democrats and the ‘deep state.’
– a vulgar, porn-star-paying-off, race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot and con-artist.
…because it’s impossible for him to be both.
And if he’s the latter… then not only is he full of shit, but if you’ve ever said anything positive about the man – so are you. And this applies to Cruz, Graham, the whole panoply of Fox News stars and everybody else who has ever pretended to buy into this nonsense, including a few of my own family members.
And you can’t be full of shit, can you? You’re a good person who loves your country. And you think Donald Trump has done some great things for America. So you go along.
Hey, he built up the economy. He took out ISIS. Got rid of regulations. Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s what I like about him. All the other politicians lie. He tells it like it is. Okay, maybe he exaggerates a little sometimes. But they all do that. They’re all crooks. Remember that time Obama lied about keeping your doctor? He’s no better than Trump. They’re all the same. Except for Trump. He’s on my side.
All those lies aren’t a design flaw of the Trump presidency, they’re a core feature.
And that was the true evil genius of what the Stasi accomplished. They made such a huge portion of the population into co-conspirators that they knew, even if everything came crashing down, it was all too big for everyone to be held accountable. What were they going to do? Arrest an eighth of the entire country? So the lies get bigger and bolder – too big to fail. It’s the same escape plan.
If (hopefully, when) Donald Trump loses in November, all those lying liars who enabled him will try the same disappearing act. When the jig is finally up, they know that history won’t be kind to them and Donald Trump.
Children in cages. Military troops called upon to suppress protestors on American soil. Tens of thousands of avoidable Coronavirus deaths. Collusion with America’s enemies and hostility to our allies. Profiteering. Nepotism. And lies. So many lies.
“Donald who?” They’ll say one day.
But we need to remember who was responsible for this dumpster fire of a presidency. For this fiasco. This national nightmare.
It isn’t just one man. It’s never just one man. We need to remember those people. The collaborators and enablers who made this disaster possible. We need to hold them accountable. Vote them out of office. Call them out for what they’ve done to our country.
Or they’ll be back before you know it.