• Lies and Lies and Lies

    When Shepard Smith of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News lambasted Donald Trump on-screen this week for ‘lie after lie after lie’, it was a hugely significant turning point for the Trump presidency.  The President has hitherto been able to rely on the uncritical support of the right-wing media, so – when he cannot easily dismiss Smith’s condemnation as “fake news” – he is left to explain to his equally uncritical supporters why even his friends in the media have had enough of his cavalier treatment of the truth.

    His critics, of course, will ask why it has taken so long for supposedly responsible news reporters to call him out on his more egregious flirtations with falsehood.  And, for students of the political process, it raises the question of whether Donald Trump has any longer even a rudimentary understanding of what the truth is.

    It seems clear to me that the President long ago ceased to recognise that there is such a thing as an objective truth.  He has after all built a whole career on a simple proposition – that the truth is what people believe, and that it can therefore be established, whatever the objectively determined facts might suggest, by the degree of confidence and persuasiveness with which it can be declared.  If people believe what you say, that is enough – the truth is thereby established for all practical purposes.

    He discovered in his business career, and in building his public image, that force of personality and the credibility that comes from celebrity were much more important than the facts; and, as the boss of his own commercial empire, he surrounded himself with toadies who knew that their jobs depended on believing whatever he told them.  He has carried that experience with him into politics where it has again proved its worth in persuading people to vote for him.

    He saw no need to abandon this tried and true approach to the truth when he reached the White House.  Indeed, as early as his inauguration, we saw the technique at work.  He was quite happy to declare, in the face of the established facts, that the margin of his victory was one of the greatest on record and – even more ambitiously, given the visual recordings of both events – that the turnout for his inauguration was greater than that for his predecessor.  The gullibility of his supporters, he thought, would be enough to win the day.

    Despite some reverses, and the degree of scrutiny to which he is now subject, he has not lost confidence in his ability to declare that black is white.  As long as he is believed, by his supporters in particular, the “truth” is thereby established.  We can expect much more of the same – unless there are more Shepard Smiths prepared to do their jobs properly.

    The issue that prompted Smith’s exasperated declaration was the meeting held during the campaign by members of the Trump campaign team, including Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jnr, with a range of Russian figures, including representatives of the Russian government and security services.

    The meeting was kept secret and its existence denied – and even when news of it broke, the purpose of the meeting and the identity of those attending was misrepresented.  The person doing the misrepresenting was none other than the President’s son – truly a “chip off the old block” if the extent of his lies is anything to go by.  He seems to have well and truly learnt the lesson provided by observing his father’s example over many years – that it matters little what really happened as long as the preferred, even if false, version is presented with sufficient confidence and certainty.

    It is always distressing to realise that a person one has dealings with is unable to tell the truth – and is, not to point too fine a point on it, a congenital liar.  It is not just distressing, but alarming, when that person is the President of the United States.

    We cannot expect Donald Trump to recant or to change the habits of a lifetime, so what is to be done?  The one glimmer of hope is that Trump’s poll ratings have slumped dramatically to record low levels.  Perhaps ordinary people have at last had enough and have enough self-respect to demand that their elected leaders are worthy of their trust.  Perhaps some of that self-respect will rub off on Trump’s political colleagues, and they will act before bad gets worse .

    Bryan Gould

    17 July 2017