The Biggest Liar should be the name of the reality-television series Donald Trump hosts whenever he leaves the presidency.
Trump, as the master of the art of the lie, will be in an ideal position to judge the capacity for mendacity of the contestants. Many, if not most of the latter, can come straight from the ranks of his own administration, people he has appointed to top posts such as Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) and chair of the National Security Council (Lt. General Michael Flynn). The latter was forced to resign in record time for misleading both Congress and the Vice President while the former had to recuse himself from involvement in the investigation surrounding contacts between leaders of the Trump campaign and top Russian officials.
Trump himself has uttered such a constant torrent of lies, distortions, and false promises that a weighty book already could be assembled describing them and debunking them. The lies could be classified by categories. Most self-serving: The claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally, thereby denying him a victory in the popular vote? Most cruel: The promise that he would abolish Obamacare and replace it with a system of less expensive, better and more inclusive care, a promise he knew the Republican Congress would never allow him to fulfill even if he wanted to. Instead, just about every serious observer agrees that whatever Congress eventually proposes, it will cover fewer people, cost more, and provide less care.
All these lies and many more—and there are almost four years left in his term! Another tweet, another lie. If lies were dollars, Donald Trump would be richer than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros and the entire Saudi royal family combined. Still, his latest lie, which he tweeted over the weekend, stands out as probably his most outrageous and outlandish false accusation yet.
Without providing a shred of evidence, Trump charged that in the last month of the campaign President Barack Obama illegally tapped his communications at Trump Tower. Obama immediately responded that he had never ordered a wiretap on any American.
This latest lie wasn’t contradicted only by Obama. The director of the FBI, James Comey, no friend of the Democrats, has urged the Justice Department to publicly issue a denial that such surveillance ever took place. Had Obama ever given the order to wiretap Trump, to implement it, the Justice Department would have had to request and receive a warrant from a special secret court, known as a FISA court. Only then would the FBI be authorized to carry out the wiretapping. But the Justice Department would never have involved itself in such a harebrained operation and the FISA court would never have approved such a transparently political request.
The reasons Comey would spearhead such an extraordinary rebuke of the president are not hard to fathom. Whatever you think of Comey—many people think his last-minute revelations about Hillary Clinton’s emails gave Trump the presidency—he is not a man that would carry out blindly an illegal and purely political order. When George W. Bush wanted the Justice Department to paint a veneer of legality on torture, Comey stood up to Bush and his gofer Alberto Gonzalez and refused.
Trump’s charge against Obama fits a pattern within his web of lies—a subset of falsehoods that are so senseless, so transparently untrue and so easily disprovable—that it is at first sight puzzling why anyone would utter them. Trump’s obsessive and disastrously unsuccessful campaign to disprove that Barack Obama is a native-born American is another prime example.
I can’t find a precise word in the English language for this kind of lie so I will propose a new word: Trumpfoolery.
What could possibly be Trump’s motive in engaging in this kind of thing? It’s hard to fathom the motives of a man like Trump, who at times appears to live outside the world of reason, logic, and fact. My best guess is that his intent in the case of the wiretapping allegation is to muddy the waters and distract attention away from the Russia connection. More generally, his purpose is to cast doubt, for instance on the legitimacy of Obama ’s candidacy or the credibility of U.S. intelligence agencies willing to carry out a surveillance operation against a presidential candidate. Deceit by misdirection.
The other reason for the steady stream of Trumpfoolery is where Trump gets his information. The wiretapping allegation originated in an extreme right wing medium, Breitbart news. Breitbart is part of a web of disinformation associated with what has been called the “alt-right,” for alternative right. (I propose a name change here too, to ult-right, for ultra-right or ultimate right, the latter being the exact position on the ideological spectrum where you can’t move any farther right).
Then there was Trump’s comment about something major having just happened in Sweden. The Swedes had no clue. What happened? Nothing. It was just something Trump had picked up through the funhouse mirror of Fox News.
Every president lies, some a little (Obama) and some a lot (Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush). But no presidency has been built on a foundation and a whole edifice of lies. This one has. The very idea that Donald Trump has the qualifications—political, ethical, intellectual—to be president is a colossal lie. His main argument that he is qualified for the office is that he is a very successful real estate developer. Yet, even his business career has been a checkered one, littered with bankruptcies, lawsuits, tax avoidance, a university founded on false premises, an unusually small and self-serving philanthropic footprint, even racial discrimination.
With Donald Trump, the thoroughly post-truth presidency has arrived. The ghost of Orwell, scattered through every particle in the universe, is laughing.