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On Lying

The Other Side introduces our first Guest Post. Today's guest contributor is Andy Rothstein, whose career in education spanned a number of years in various capacities, including principal and Superintendent. Andy recently retired from the National Academy Foundation, where he served as Chief Academic Officer and Senior Vice President. He is currently writing on various subjects and continuing to follow the political scene.

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!” Somewhere, Sir Walter Scott is smirking. Politifact reports that 69% of what Donald Trump says is significantly false. He ends most of his lies with “believe me.” To be fair, anybody who says they don’t lie is lying. Writing that sentence is disturbing in three ways.

  1. It suggests that everybody I communicate with could be fibbing to me.

  2. I am a liar.

  3. I have something in common with Donald Trump, which is by far the most disconcerting.

To separate me and most of us from Trump, I’ll contrast most lying with his.

Lying to Dramatize Something Good

When our son was five years old, my wife and I lied that Santa couldn’t find the stuffed dog he wished for, then revealed that he’d gotten a real puppy instead. Trump doesn’t own a dog, fortunately for the dog. We generously gave credit to Santa. Trump takes credit for everything good, no matter if he had anything to do with it, such as airline safety.

Another example of Trump lying about something good: Black home ownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of the country. The truth is that peaked in 2004 and has been falling since. Hearing this lie, I imagined a thrilled African-American family entering a new Trump-built $799,000 five-thousand square foot home on an exclusive cul-de-sac. Donald and Melania show up as Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life” to give bread, salt and wine from the Trump Winery, which Trump falsely said was the largest winery on the East Coast.

Sparing Embarrassment

Somebody completely unknown to you comes up and says, “Good to see you again.” You reply, “Good to see you, too.” The goal of your lie is to avoid awkwardness and hope the ensuing conversation reveals enough about the other person to refresh memories or spare embarrassment.

Trump lies for the exact opposite purpose. He lied about President Obama’s place of birth to imply that a black man named Barack Obama couldn’t be a real American. To be clear, being born in Kenya is as good as being born in Princeton, Indiana (my wife’s birthplace) or the Bronx (mine) or anyplace else.

Trump recently labeled countries like Kenya as s---holes, then lied about saying it. I don’t know if Trump considered that most evidence indicates that we are all probably descended from Kenyans. I’m sure that Trump would deny this since science isn’t one of his strong suits and he thinks scientists are liars.

Lying Because Correcting Doesn’t Make a Difference

Your Aunt Bessie comes up to you at a family wedding, plants a wet kiss on your cheek and pronounces, “You look just like your father.” The bathroom mirror indicates that you look more like your mother, which you consider an upgrade compared to your father. The reality is, you look the way you look regardless. You like Aunt Bessie, so you lie and reply, “I know.” No harm, no foul.

This type of lying overlaps with some of Trump’s. He lies about things that don’t matter just because he can. Trump’s lie about the size of the inaugural audience is a case in point. The crowd was what it was, with pictures serving as the bathroom mirror. Besides Trump, who cared?

Maybe he lied about that because bigger is always better in Trumplandia. He may be lying about the size of his fortune and his appendages. Mueller may expose the money lie. I hope he’ll leave the appendage claims unchecked.

Voluminous Lying

The amount of Trump lying has most of us beat by a long shot. Is Trump a pathological or habitual liar? Without a diagnosis, I’ll go with habitual and deliberate. Most people limit their lying. Lying is exhausting and difficult to track, especially when you tell different ones all the time. Trump says he’s a genius, so keeping track of the lies should be easy. Of course, he’s probably lying about being a genius. His voluminous lying would tax any IQ, which could explain the contradictory lying. Then again, Trump doesn’t give a _ _ _ _ about being caught in a lie and never admits one. Another lie.

Lying to Inflict Pain

If psychopathology doesn’t explain Trump’s lying, perhaps sociopathology does. Many of his lies are hurtful. Trump’s lie that Ted Cruz’s father helped in the JFK assassination was intended to inflict pain. Certainly, his attacks on women and their appearance are intended to hurt.

I was raised Jewish and guilt was a major consideration in conducting one’s life and getting along with my parents. The way I experienced it, sins accumulated all year long building a major overload of guilt. That pile of guilt could only be forgiven by sincere repentance, culminating on Yom Kippur with fasting and repeating the same prayers relentlessly (pledging money to the synagogue helped clear the slate).

Christianity also takes guilt seriously though it has more of a “pay as you go” system than Judaism for forgiveness. Most religions, as far as I know, expect adherents to address their guilt. Trump lies about his religious convictions. Fortunately for him, lots of evangelicals are attracted to sinning leaders as long as they offer policies they want.

Lying As a Family Tradition

Something I wonder about is how all of Trump’s lying works with his children. Is dinner a sort of liar’s club? Is Trump as good in detecting lies as he is at generating them? If that’s the case, Donald, Jr. and Eric might have gotten in a lot of trouble as kids. But since Trump is a narcissist, I expect Junior and Eric got “atta boys” for their mendacity. We know how the lying worked with his ex-wives. It was expensive. Apparently ex-lovers cashed in, too.

Lying to Get Away With It

We move from psychology, ethics, social etiquette, and religion to legal. There have been 3,500 legal actions by and against Donald Trump. How much lying these entail is incalculable. There’s been a lot of lying about the Trump campaign and Russia. More lies about that are on the way, but he may not get away with those. A few of his cronies didn’t. Trump plays golf where lying is expected. Too bad he doesn’t fish. Lying is perfect for that.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d like to see Trump’s lying catch up with him. That’s the truth.

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