Trump’s Lies

An anonymous reader of yesterday’s post left a very sharp comment that I quote here in its entirety:

“’who was (and is!) entitled, self-righteous and dishonest to or past the point of criminality….’ Describes Mr. Trump equally, or possibly more than Mrs. Clinton, don’t you think? We shouldn’t hold him to a lower standard.”

This comment calls for a serious response. By embedding my response into a new post, I’ll give both the comment and my response a wider audience.

***

For many, many years before Trump entered politics, my former business partner and I were mildly obsessed by his low character and his publicity-seeking antics. We watched the erection of one of his garishly named buildings from our office windows, so he was a neighbor of sorts. We heard stories from friends who had firsthand knowledge of what a chiseler he was. He struck us as a braggart and a liar – exactly the kind of man who would serially boast about (and, no doubt exaggerate) his wealth, his business acumen and his sexual experiences. We would no sooner have done business with him than entrust our daughters to Bill Clinton’s tender loving care.

It’s fair to say, then, that I was not enthusiastic about his becoming the standard-bearer for the Republican party.

***

As you know if you have been reading these posts, over the last year my attitude toward President Trump (the title Mr. is flatly incorrect and arguably improper as this point, as it would have been for Mr. Obama two years ago) in his role as president has undergone substantial revision. This change on my part has stemmed from both a broadly – but far from uniformly – positive assessment of his policy and personnel decisions and from what I take to be a much more detailed, and thereby more nuanced, understanding of his character.

In light of the anonymous commenter’s emphasis on Trump’s character, this post will spell out my current assessment of that.

My former partner used to say – and I agree with him – that as people age, their bad habits generally get worse. I do not believe that President Trump has had any sort of road to Damascus conversion, or that the elements of his character that we abhorred have gone away. In my view, he is a boastful guy who generally says whatever he thinks will help him get his way without giving much of a damn about its accuracy. I see him as a serial – indeed, almost compulsive – liar.

***

That having been said (or written, rather) I also think that it’s quite readily demonstrable that both former President Obama and Madame Clinton are also serial liars. I don’t excuse this behavior on their parts, or on Trump’s, on the basis of ‘all politicians do it’, though. It may well be the case that nearly all politicians lie – or at least aggressively shade the truth – but what they lie about and why they do so matters enormously.

President Obama lied – repeatedly and knowingly – to achieve his desired policy ends ( e.g., “If you like your doctor…” and in the manner that he promoted the egregious agreement with Iran) and he abused his power by implementing that agreement without Senatorial approval and by unilaterally amending multiple laws. He was, if you will, an ideologically-motivated liar and abuser of power. Madame Clinton lied to cover her incompetence (Benghazi), her criminality (regarding her private server) and her abuses of power (filegate and, I believe, the orgaizational behavior indirectly described in the FISA Memo – about which I’m guessing she knew) and her greed (through her abuse of the Clinton Foundation’s nonprofit status). I see Madame Clinton as being all about the acquisition and use of power and money, with no scruples at all about how those ends are achieved.

And no, I do not believe that my phrase “who was (and is!) entitled, self-righteous and dishonest to or past the point of criminality….” applies “possibly more” to President Trump than to Madame Clinton. Not. Even. Close.

Entitled? Yes. Self-righteous? Not really. I think Trump has generally seen himself as a kind of lovable scamp, fully cognizant that he stretches – or breaks – the truth to get his way. Dishonest? Absolutely – but let’s examine the kinds of things he lies about and why he lies about them.    

As best I can tell, Trump has lied forever about business because he seems to think that doing so makes him smarter than the next guy. On that, we differ. He also lies about stupid things like the size of his inaugural crowd because, in my view, he is an emotionally needy man. And he lies about things like his son’s participation in the meeting with the Russians because he wants to protect his family (much like Madame Clinton undoubtedly lied to protect her husband from all the accusations against him by women) and because he (wrongly) thinks he can get away with it.

In my view, Trump’s kinds of lies are both immoral and dumb, but they are not per se reasons to try to take away the office he won, just as President Clinton’s actually criminal perjury in the matter of Ms. Lewinsky was not sufficient grounds for him to be thrown out of office. Frankly, I’m pretty sure that the American public had a fair understanding of Trump’s character when they elected him.

In other words, I see Obama’s and Hillary’s lies as bad for us, being about policy and abuses of power, while I see Trump’s lies as being (in his mind) good for him, being mostly about ego and family. Trump’s are certainly unattractive, but much more benign than the former.

I see no evidence – zero – that President Trump has behaved criminally. As I have previously written, I think the idea that he engaged in obstruction of justice regarding the investigation of the possible commission of a crime that he knew hadn’t taken place is flat out silly, and that the notion that Bob Mueller should try to entrap him in a process crime with regard to the same nonexistent underlying conspiracy is positively offensive.

I have concluded, in short, that President Trump’s shortcomings in the matter of character are much less threatening to our system than those of his predecessor and of his former rival. I might wish that his flaws were not such a big part of his persona, but then, if he weren’t willing to be as obnoxious as he is, I’m pretty sure that Madame Clinton would be president, with disastrous effects for the country.

Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous commenter for having, in effect, forced me to address the character issue head-on.

 

M.H. Johnston

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