American presidents lie. They always have. Just Google “Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin,” “Bill Clinton and NAFTA” or “George Bush and weapons of mass destruction.” Even Honest Abe likely told a fib or two.
But no U.S. president has ever lied as prolifically, constantly, insidiously and dangerously as Donald Trump. He never stops. He’s the Energizer Bunny of endless falsehood.
It’s enough to make even Orwell’s head explode.
The Trump Lie Machine is going into head-spinning and soul-numbing overdrive as the midterm elections draw closer.
Trump lies and distorts so relentlessly and profusely, tracking and fact-checking his false statements became a full-time job for journalists at home and abroad.
One of these journalists is Daniel Dale, the Washington Bureau chief of the Toronto Star. He calculates Lyin’ Don made four false claims per day since being sworn into the presidency 21 months ago with his hand on the Bible.
When Dale first was assigned the Trump beat in September 2016, he found the Republican candidate “so incessantly dishonest,” his habit of twisting and inverting reality required a specific focus “separate from the day-to-day news coverage I was doing.” Dale looked forward to being “freed from this [ugly] task” of covering Trump’s persistent untruths once Hillary Clinton prevailed, as was widely expected. Trump won “and so, [he] had to continue.”
What accounts for this endless mendacity and rhetorical manipulation? Speaking to “Public” Broadcasting System NewsHour anchor and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member Judy Woodruff last week, Dale theorized Trump and the Republican allies and outlets who repeat his outlandish and bogus assertions want to drive media coverage and political discourse away from topics they wish to avoid—health care, the Mueller investigation and “anything else the president doesn’t want us to talk about,” such as Trump’s still unreleased tax returns, climate change and the party’s regressive tax cuts.
Dale is on to something there, no doubt, but the real meaning of the president’s Twitter-amplified Fibby Pulpit is deeper and darker than mere diversion and partisan spin. As Chris Hedges suggests in his latest book, “America: The Farewell Tour,” Trump and his party’s continuing defiance of reality suggests the United States is sliding into “corporate totalitarianism”:
Trump and the Republican Party represent the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. Pillage and oppression are intensified by the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. … But Clinton did not pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.
The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of ‘fake news.’ They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted them with the revoking of net neutrality. … “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed,” Hanna Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. …
The permanent lie turns political discourse into absurdist theater. … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has a report that proves the tax cuts will pay for themselves and will not increase the deficit – only there never was a report. … The permanent lie is the apotheosis of totalitarianism. It no longer matters what is true. … When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, and depth and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s faith in threats and force.
Consistency is discarded. The Trump administration has cited “states’ rights” in trying to roll back federal requirements that out-of-date coal and nuclear plants be viciously challenging that provision in court.
Trump blames the nation’s bourgeois media and a timid, centrist Democratic Party for the hatred, incivility and demonization that pollutes U.S. politics, while he calls his opponents “evil” and celebrates violence against liberals and journalists.
It is important to understand, as Hedges does, the Trump-led assault on veracity, evidence and our very ability to separate truth from falsehood gained traction only because a decades-long corporate coup devastated and discredited public education, academia, organized labor and the legal and criminal justice systems. It has done all this and more while turning the Democratic Party into what the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin called the nation’s Inauthentic Opposition.
Think of this distinctively American “corporate-managed democracy” and “inverted totalitarianism” as the nation’s pre-existing authoritarian condition for the rise of an Amerikaner-style fascism.
In the face of what an authoritarian like Trump and his white-nationalist Republican Party did over the last two years of one-party rule—an annulment of what’s left of the U.S. Constitution’s much-ballyhooed “checks and balances”—there’s no credible moral argument against the notion progressives living in contested districts should choose the lesser of two evils in next week’s midterm elections. Adolph Reed Jr., Noam Chomsky and Arun Gupta’s warnings about the dangers of a Trump presidency have been richly born out. I, for one, should have paid them more heed.
Still, we on the Left, what’s left of it, should nonetheless retain our capacity to be properly nauseated by a yard sign I recently saw in arch-liberal, super-blue Iowa City, Iowa. Surrounded by other, smaller signs with the names of a handful of dismal local and state-wide Democratic candidates, it read “MAKE AMERICA GOOD AGAIN: Vote.”
Please. The notion that the richly bipartisan corporate totalitarianism of which Trump is the apotheosis can be reversed, and the nation made “good” simply by voting Herr Donald and the Republicans out of office is a childish fantasy.
That, too, is a Great Lie. As marchers celebrating a rare legal victory over a white supremacist U.S. police state in Democratically-controlled Chicago chanted last month, “The whole damn system is guilty as Hell.” It’s the whole damn system that must be democratized from the bottom up.
From the dismal dollar Democrats, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, Tom Steyer, the Gates Foundation, the Brookings Institution, the CFR, the Atlantic Council, the Obama and Clintons on the so-called “left,” to the radically reactionary Republicans, the Koch brothers, the Mercers, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Fox News, the Weekly Standard, the Hudson Institute, the Hoover Institution, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, Breitbart, right-wing talk radio, the Sinclair Broadcasting Company, the Federalist Society and more on the actual right, imperialism, racial inequality, and class rule have brought us to this menacing pre-fascist moment.